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Source: The Long Island Advance

Yaphank Master Plan Approved


Posted: December 9, 2016
Originally Published: December 8, 2016

The Yaphank County Center Master Plan, which advocates the preservation of 137 acres of land plus 30 to 60 acres to be set aside for possible county expansion on the Yaphank county campus, passed on Tuesday 16-1; Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) was the lone opposer.

The legislative approval follows the Ways and Means Committee’s Dec. 1 unanimous bipartisan vote that also attracted a vocal assemblage of over 100 supporters from Long Island Needs a Dragstrip, a group advocating using a parcel of undeveloped land on the campus and a delay in the vote.

Assemb. Dean Murray (R,C,I-East Patchogue) and Sen. Tom Croci (R,C-Sayville) sent a Nov. 23 letter to Legis. Kate Browning, (WF-Shirley) who marshaled the establishment of a Yaphank County Center Planning Committee chaired by chief of staff Josh Slaughter, mentioning the “very real fiscal problems that county is facing” and suggesting, before taking property off the tax roles, the county should explore all options. They also urged delaying the vote until other possible options were explored.

“I felt it was a political jab after the election, knowing that Josh [Slaughter] is possibly running for my seat next year and because of my support of [Croci’s Democratic challenger) John DeVito,” said Browning, who will reach term limits in 2017. “[The letter] wasn’t very clear and came across that they were not very well informed and didn’t do their homework.”

Murray responded to Browning’s comment. “Tom and I sent a letter to the legislature urging them to do their due diligence and tap all possible uses for county surplus property before permanently removing it from the tax roles, ” he said. “They decided not to do so, so it’s done.”

The master plan committee, introduced by Browning after the county proposed a solar farm project advocating taking down 40 acres of trees on Yaphank county land last fall, met to assess the county parcel holdings and what would possibly be needed in the future. It targeted 137 acres of undeveloped land for preservation plus setting aside 30 to 60 acres of land reserved for possible future county use for the next 30-50 years, including possible projects coupled with no land sale.

The undeveloped acres are parcels that are not contiguous and are zoned residential, Browning said. The largest undeveloped parcel is 34.42 acres and is adjacent to the former John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility recently purchased by Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center.

While opponents of the plan point to too much preservation, Browning said much of the land taken into consideration was decided because of Brookhaven Town’s commitment to the Carmans River Watershed Protection Plan. A draft master plan received preservation support from Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. In a Nov. 15 letter to Browning, Romaine said the town agreed with the preservation of forested land within the Yaphank County Center and agreed there should be no further sale to private entities.

The master plan committee included the Suffolk County Department of Planning and Economic Development, the town supervisor’s office and the chair of Environment, Planning and Agriculture, as well as local civics. The group also invited Brookhaven Rail Terminal to the table. The county sold off 230 acres of its county complex to Oakland Transportation Holdings, that is, Brookhaven Rail Terminal, in 2013 and BRT land surrounds the county campus on the western end.

“We have Brookhaven Rail Terminal, the Brookhaven town landfill, a concrete business, Long Island Compost, and Caithness nearby,” said Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, who sat on the committees monitoring the town landfill; her group also challenged Long Island Compost’s practices. “The community has large-scale industrial and commercial development there and have more car traffic and truck traffic than anywhere else in Suffolk County. It’s overwhelmed with noise, dust and congestion.”

In a 2012 American Lung Association State of Air report, Yaphank’s zip code came up with an ‘F’ in ozone layer pollution and ‘B’ in particulate matter before further development like BRT.

In a response to Murray and Croci, Browning cited incorrect information in Murray and Croci’s letter; the amount to be preserved was 137 acres and she said the preserved property hasn’t been on the tax roles for 60 years. Browning also asked the state officials’ help in addressing unfunded mandates that make up about one-third of the county’s budget, ensuring that the county gets its fair share of transportation subsidies and giving the county comptroller the power to enforce sales tax laws.

While Murray said he supported Long Island Needs A Dragstrip, no mention of the group is in the joint letter.

Murray said he thought the best spot for the drag strip would be EPCAL in Calverton. “But if that’s not moving forward, they at least need to have the right to look at other locations,” he said.

“Did they ask the Brookhaven Development group and the IDA? All we said was, ‘do your due diligence.’”

But Chad Trusnovec, vice president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association, felt the master plan committee had.

“First off, as a [master plan] committee member, civic leader and lifelong resident, I stand firmly behind the findings of the committee,” he said. “I’m also a Republican and a Conservative and understand fiscal responsibility. But you can’t keep saying, ‘we need money.’

“I would ask this: How much should one community be asked to bear in the county of Suffolk? When BRT is fully built out, it is estimated that there will be approximately 400 trucks a day coming to our roadways.”

Linda Petersen, president of the YTCA, said the raceway was not mentioned by Murray during the civic’s Meet the Candidates Night. She agreed with Trusnovec and also questioned Croci’s involvement.

“It’s not in his district,” she said. “Most of our members live above the Long Island Expressway, which he doesn’t cover. I don’t get it. ”

At the Ways and Means meeting, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who sits on that committee and approved the master plan, suggested setting up a task force to look for possible drag strip racing site locations in the county.

“If [Cilmi] proposed a task force to look for land for a potential drag strip in Suffolk County, I would support that,” said Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “If we could find an economically viable project to support them, I think it would be a good thing.”

John Cozzali, a Local 28 sheetmetal worker who lives in Mastic and is the spokesperson for Long Island Needs a Dragstrip, said while the drag strip could be done in 70 acres, the group was looking at establishing one in a little more than 100 acres. Browning tried to meet with Cozzali last week, but it didn’t happen.

Cozzali said he started the campaign for a drag strip five and a half months ago.

“There are 4,000 certified NHRA race cars on Long Island and already there are 13,000 supporters on our Facebook page,” he said.

Cozzali commented other options were looked into; the Town of Riverhead would support it, but not at EPCAL. And the owner of Riverhead Raceway was not interested in putting in a quarter-mile drag racing strip, he said.

“I definitely feel we made progress,” he said. “We had over 100 people there on a Thursday afternoon.” He would be following up with Cilmi, he said.

“I don’t want to say Brookhaven is out of the picture,” Cozzali added. “There are still parcels. Maybe by Gabreski Airport, also in Riverhead. Southampton still has land along the college. We’ll scan every piece of land they can find.”