Is the fate of the region in the Town of Islip’s hands?
Recently, the Town of Islip’s Planning Board approved Islip Pines, Serota’s longstanding development proposal for a 136 acre tract of land along Sunrise Highway. For decades, the civic community, chambers of commerce and even the town pushed back against the project, arguing that it’s too large for the parcel. It is frequently argued that the economic repercussions of the development would resonate to surrounding communities, and be detrimental to their prosperity.
Then, almost overnight (at least in the relatively slow moving development world), the Town Planning board changed their tune. The project was approved by the board unanimously, despite the longstanding concerns of the various groups. In the project’s pitch, Bram Weber, Serota’s attorney, ran down the list of familiar concepts that readers of this page knew all too well (as seen in Newsday):
In 2006, Serota Properties of Valley Stream — which acquired the 136-acre site three decades ago for $7 million — scrapped the idea of an industrial park and began drawing up plans for what would be Long Island’s first large-scale mixed-use property designed to attract tech-driven companies and young professionals, said Bram Weber, Serota’s attorney.
In one fell swoop, Weber mentions the “young professionals” that so many developers have touted before. The project was substantively scaled back from previous iterations, and now includes 350 housing units, about 1.1 million square feet of industrial /office space, 38,000 square feet of commercial usage, 339,000 square feet of retail, 178,000 square feet of entertainment space, a 12.7-acre great lawn, and six athletic fields along Sunrise Highway.
If Islip Pines does get built in the next five years, the Town has to take a serious look at the impact it will have on Heartland Town Square, Jerry Wolkoff’s so-called “megacity” at the Pilgrim State, complete with up to 9,000 rental apartments, 1 million square feet of retail space and more than 3 million square feet of offices.
Between Islip Pines and Heartland, the region is facing an influx of 2.1 million square feet of office space, 3.3 million square feet of retail, and 9,350 residential units. That is a massive amount of growth to be overseen by one municipality. Clearly, the town is currently under substantial development pressure. Both projects demonstrate the marked need for oversight of development that transcends Village, Town and County levels of government.
Unfortunately, the economic impacts of both transcend the borders of the Town, and resonate throughout Suffolk County. Home-rule may facilitate a community-first mindset, but in the case of these two developments, the home-rule system is detrimental to the region’s progress. What was designed to protect localities may now very well hurt them (and the rest of the region).
Why does the Town of Islip get to decide upon the fate of their neighbors? With projects of this magnitude, the job is too big for a Township- the right of final approval (or at least review) should be granted to a regional planning entity. Is the Town strong enough to properly plan beyond its own bounds?
The project still has a few hurdles left to overcome, principally getting approval by the Islip Town Board and the blessing of NYS DOT over the traffic concerns. The Planning Board’s approval represents positive momentum for the long-delayed proposal, and has injected new life into the development process.
The Town of Islip is at a crossroads, and it should tread carefully. For once, buck the trend here on Long Island and think of the bigger picture- Think regionally. If the Town doesn’t, there should be an entity that does. At a recent hearing, Donna Pericone, president of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Chamber of Commerce, asked “Who is doing the long-term planning?”
Unfortunately Donna, the answer is those who shouldn’t be.