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Stalling The Lighthouse Project

And other tales of Long Island development gone awry


“At least the Nassau Hub is designed as a total entity,” says Koppelman. “If you look at the design of Heartland, it’s industrial over here, it’s housing over there, and it’s commerce over here. The state also wants to build a truck terminal there. Who the hell wants a truck terminal in the middle of a residential community? And to have a load of retail commercial there, what will that do to the general retail in Brentwood? Brentwood is not an upscale community. To put another nail in its coffin raises serious planning questions.”

“There’s nothing there that they should make such a big thing about it,” Wolkoff says.

Whether Wolkoff gets to fully achieve his vision for Heartland Town Square remains to be seen. But at least he’s going horizontal. Further east, developers are hoping to reach new heights.


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The Slippery Slope

The peak of Long Island’s latest batch of oversized development dreams has to be the 350-foot indoor ski mountain intended to be one of the big draws at Riverhead Resorts’ $1.6 billion leisure-and-recreation complex.

Heartland Town Square, above, would have places to work and live for thousands of people on the former site of the Pilgrim State Hospital in Brentwood.

Scottish developer John Niven of Baldragon Homes in Scotland has teamed up with Bayrock Group, a New York-based investment and development company, to construct eight theme parks earmarked for 740 acres of the much larger Enterprise Park at Calverton, otherwise known as Epcal, the redevelopment project for Grumman’s old airstrip in the Pine Barrens, where F-14 fighter jets were flight-tested. If Riverhead Resorts ever gets built, vacationers could ski, kayak, canoe, swim, ride horses, meditate, shop, eat, whatever—and whenever—their heart desires.

“For this investment you have to be open every day, and provide the same level of enjoyment in July as you do in January,” says Mitch Pally, an attorney at the Weber Law Group who is representing Riverhead Resorts. He explained the rationale: “There are 40 million people who live within an eight-hour drive of this resort. There is nothing in the Northeast of this size. I live in Stony Brook, and it’s easier for me to get to Disneyworld than it is to get to Six Flags.”

He says the resort wouldn’t draw down the aquifer, and would rely on renewable energy and recycled resources. Still, the environmentalists out on the East End haven’t been rushing to don their ski boots. The resort has come under scrutiny of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and it has already had to incorporate a sanctuary for the tiger salamander, the largest land salamander in the United States, which was found inhabiting the area. Next species to do battle with the resort: the migratory spotted owl, which also calls the old airstrip home a few months a year, according to local activists. But the first fatality, sources say, may be the ski mountain itself.

The simplest explanation is the Recession. The company has missed its payment of roughly $4 million due the town June 15, but it was granted a two-month extension, explains Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. The resort developer has already paid the town $8 million, “a significant investment,” the supervisor says.

“There are some who would just love us to pull the rug from under them and hold them in default,” Walter says. “But they’ve put $8 million on the table.”

More Songs About Buildings and Food

Suburban circles packed with people and geodesic domes for farming are elements of a radical rezoning proposal.

Actually, the idea of skiing indoors would probably have appealed to Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, whose Old Westbury estate, now the home of the New York Institute of Technology, once boasted stables long enough so the equestrian could race his horses inside all winter. Now the much shorter Stables, as they’re still known, are the home of the NYIT’s innovative school of architecture and design, where one of the professors, Tobias Holler, recently talked about his team being chosen as one of the of 23 finalists in the Long Island Index’s “Build a Better Burb” contest.

Holler, an engaging young professor in his mid-30s with probing blue eyes, dark hair and an easy smile, had helped assemble his team of Katelyn Mulry, a senior architecture student at NYIT, who’s from Sayville—the only Long Islander on the team; Ana Serra, a 1996 NYIT graduate who’s now a sustainability consultant in Manhattan; and Sven Peters, a Brooklyn-based architect.

The competition drew 212 entries from 30 countries, including Iran. That’s certainly a lot of people who want to fix Long Island, even if their motivation was little more than a chance to compete for $22,500 in prizes.

But what makes this group’s entry so intriguing is that they really do think big—and small. They dub it “Long Island Radically Rezoned” or LIRR for short, a “regenerative vision for a living island.” You can bet Robert Moses would be rolling in his grave; they don’t build new highways. They focus on making places walkable. Their plan uses 100 percent renewable energy, relies on recycled rainwater and feeds 3 million Long Islanders with food grown locally. Even wine, and meat, for those who indulge.

A glance at the map shows how radical their concept is: Under their vision, Long Island looks like a cluster of amoebas glued to the underside of a leaf. Most people would live in high-density, super-energy efficient downtowns (20,000 people per square mile, like Brooklyn) while 36 percent of Long Islanders would stay where they are in what the planners call the “suburban fabric.” The remaining areas would return to nature preserves interspersed with giant Buckminster Fuller-inspired domes for all-weather farming. And the overlapping political boundaries that so bedevil us today would be transformed into polygons and “smart cells.”

“We’re not talking about eminent domain and kicking people out of their houses,” say Holler, an assistant professor born in Freiburg, Germany. “It’s a 50-year plan. This is an organic process that will happen over time.

Tobias Holler, a professor of architecture and design at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, has his team’s proposal to radically rezone Long Island spread across his desk.

“Levittown was built on potato fields, right?” Holler says with a grin. “So we’re going to take some of Levittown away over time and we’re going to grow potatoes there again. Back to the roots!” (For a more detailed look at the LIRR proposal and other finalists, go to www.buildabetterburb.org.)

Too outlandish? Not to competition advisor June Williamson, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design solutions for Redesigning Suburbs and associate professor of architecture at City College of New York. “There are many examples of very visionary ideas that at one point might have seemed impossible but then over time, perhaps after a great deal of transformation in terms of the specifics of the ideas, they have been implemented,” Williamson explains. As for the LIRR’s proposal, she says, “Bits of the DNA of their ideas could work their way into more pragmatic proposals.”

That’s not how Robert Moses operated. But the concept of embracing the improbable and encouraging the impractical does resonate with developer Jerry Wolkoff.

“I’m a big believer that for the last 40 years nothing has been done on Long Island except for another 200-house development, another 10-house development, another shopping center. We don’t need those anymore!” he says with conviction. “What we do need is sensible planning, where you go ahead and densify open space. If somebody wants to build a Mecca in Calverton with skiing, God bless him. Let him build it. If Polimeni wants to put in a tunnel, God bless him. I’m for the Lighthouse, Calverton. [People] should hug ’em and kiss ’em. Instead, they got problems! Bottom line, Long Island needs these things!”

Oh, it’ll never happen, will it?

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