At a recent MacArthur Business Alliance meeting, Town of Brookhaven Chief of Staff Brian Beedenbender announced the establishment of a sewer district required for the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub Project.
But property owners said that something still smelled, and they pointed not at sewage, but rather, at the lack of involvement they have had in the process. Perhaps of even more concern, they said, is the lack of communication they have had with Tritec, the East Setauket real estate and development company that is the master developer of the proposed 50-acre project adjacent to the Ronkonkoma train station.
“We’ve been kept in the dark, and we can’t make the business decisions we need,” charged Tom Newman at the mid-April meeting.
Newman, who has five acres of property in the area, including the World Gym on Hawkins Avenue, said he was speaking not just for himself, “but for over a dozen other property owners” who wanted to know why they have not heard from the developer which would ultimately be looking to buy up the properties.
“Talk to us now,” Newman said. “Waiting around is not in the best interest of anyone.” Added Barry Bergman, president of Alba Investments, LLC, “Let’s put a little fire under [Tritec] to meet with these people.”
Not so fast, or even logical, Beedenbender said, noting the significance of the sewer district designation as a must-have performance point in the process.
Sewage Treatment Funding Key
With the 500-thousand-gallon sewer project (upgradeable to as much as 1.5 million gallons) estimated to cost upwards of $30 million, Beedenbender said, Tritec “needed to know that the project is real. That means it’s in the county’s next budget. We’re issuing an RFP (deadline is May 18) for the design, planning on having a design prepared for the first quarter of 2013.”
Added Yves R. Michel, deputy director of Brookhaven’s Industrial Development Association, “If we don’t have the sewage treatment plant, it will be impossible to get anything else off the ground.”
As Brookhaven officials have been pursuing funding sources and options for the sewage project—including grants and financing options—Beedenbender insists that Tritec can’t be expected to meet with, and have any discussions with property owners until they know what the costs will be.
“We just secured $4 million from the state Economic Development Corporation for the design fees,” Beedenbender said. “As we can reduce the cost for the sewage handling, that’s more money available to Tritec that they can use elsewhere. That includes potentially, for them to offer property owners.”
Impact on Ronkonkoma
The project, which tentatively calls for retail, residential and business use surrounding the Ronkonkoma train station, will cost “several hundred million dollars,” Beedenbender said, adding that until plans are finalized and actual purchases and designs have been approved, there’s really no accurate estimated price tag. The approach is less about zone-specific planning, and rather, a complete vision for the area. That has raised additional concerns about potential negative effects due to traffic and business being drawn away from other areas.
“I’m concerned that when the project is done, whether we will like our town,” said Kevin Kanakos, president of Peradata Technology Corp., and membership director of the Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Ronkonkomas. “If this becomes a walkable area, and we will need that, where does that leave the downtown and lake area?
Property value and future vision concerns aside, local business representatives loosely agreed that the project is an important step forward for the area, and the town.
“Personally, I’m very excited about it,” said Denise Schwarz, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Ronkonkomas. “The project will bring affordable housing (estimates of about 800 units) for the young, it will create jobs. We all want this done right, and quickly. But a project of this magnitude is going to take time.”
‘It’s a great idea. The concepts are great,” Newman said. “But it’s a massive development, and we have to know how long this is going to take.”
“I understand [property owner concerns],” Beedenbender said. “If I were them, I’d probably feel the same way. We’re working on many parallel tracks, like the sewer district, the development plan, reaching out to the MTA.
"Publicly, the property owners are right with respect to discussions. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot going on.”