July 18, 2017 – Islip, NY, 7:00 PM

After over a decade and a half of anticipation, it only took fifteen minutes for the Town of Islip’s Town Board to unanimously approve the first phase of Heartland Town Square, a $4 billion mixed-use project slated for 452 acres in Brentwood on the grounds of the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center.

The approval for Heartland’s first phase came shortly after the 6 PM tightly-packed town board meeting began.

“And there it is. Heartland approved unanimously in less than 15 minutes, after 15 years,” tweeted Michael Dobie, a member of Newsday‘s editorial board who attended the public hearing where the approval was granted. “Took US eight years to put man on moon after JFK issued challenger. Developer Jerry Wolkoff pushing Heartland for 15 years. An LI story,” he tweeted shortly after, putting the project’s long deliberation period in perspective.

As reported in The Real Deal, Wolkoff’s proposal includes 9,130 housing units, the majority of which the developer says would be rentals. All units will be priced at what the developer called an “affordable market rate.”

Heartland will also eventually include 1 million square feet of retail space, as well as 4 million square feet of offices and other commercial uses. If all goes well for Wolkoff, the project’s total yield will be reached after a phased twenty year build out.

The project’s 113 acre first phase allows for 3,500 apartments to be built, along with 626,000 square feet of office space and 560,000 square feet of retail space. All buildings in this phase are height-restricted.

Jerry Wolkoff, Heartland’s creator and chief advocate, had mixed reactions to his project being green lit by the municipality, with the builder questioning why the process took so long. “It’s going to be terrific for the town, the community, and all of Long Island,” the developer told The Foggiest Idea minutes after the approval was granted.

Despite the board’s positive vote, Wolkoff didn’t understand why things took as long as they did. “I thought I would have got an approval seven or eight years ago,” the builder said. “Why wouldn’t they give it to me sooner? It was a blighted area. What did I do that it had to take all of these years?”

Wolkoff said even though it took years longer than he had expected, he was looking forward to working with the municipality moving forward. “I am happy,” Wolkoff said. “The town and I are now long term partners.”

One of the reasons for the project’s longtime delay is that it has been as controversial as it is large.

Gene Murphy, who served as the commissioner of Planning and Development for the Town of Islip between 2002 and 2010, worked closely on the Heartland project. “In many ways, it’s just too big,” the former planning official said to Long Island Pulse Magazine in September 2016. “More than half the project is not really walkable, which is a fundamental problem.” Concerns about the project’s size persisted as the years wore on.

Lee Koppelman, a former regional planner for Nassau and Suffolk counties who is now the executive director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University, has followed the project from it’s inception. The planner told The Real Deal in March 2017 that Heartland’s lack of detail regarding mitigation against the project’s impacts is “why it’s been sitting around for over a decade.” The planner noted to the publication at the time that it shouldn’t be approved until the concerns have been properly addressed.

With the unanimous 5-0 vote, it’s clear that the municipality disagreed.

“This project has been investigated from every possible vantage point, and the board believes that the Heartland development represents an opportunity for our town and for Long Island,” Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a released statement. “No other project in the town’s history has faced the scrutiny that has been imposed upon Heartland, and part of that has been providing opportunities for public comment throughout the past few years at critical junctures.”

The township’s unanimous vote means that Heartland Town Square, the largest mixed-use project in Long Island’s history, is moving forward. “I don’t stop,” Wolkoff said of his efforts since first proposing the project in 2002. “I think it’s great, and I am happy for all of Long Island.”