A motion to rezone sparks debate

Town board proposes to rezone land near landfill for industrial use

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Last month, the Town of Brookhaven hosted their first meeting back open to the public. During the public hearing period, the board made a motion to rezone 130 acres of land surrounding the landfill in Yaphank, the former proposed site for the Brookhaven Town ashfill, from A1 residential to L1 residential, sparking outrage and concern by the neighboring community after years of fighting for its closure. A public comment period is now open for 30 days as of July 15.

The proposed zone change would leave a wooded buffer zone with intentions to sell of 70 acres for light industrial development. However, community concerns include increased traffic, noise, pollution and the potential environmental contaminants in the Carmens River watershed area. That, coupled with the proposed anaerobic digester across the street and the Shamrock Rail garbage transfer station—for which the town said an application has not yet been submitted—has caused many members of the community to protest the profusion of “noxious” uses for one area.

“My first thought was, You’re kidding me; you’re not putting in an ashfill because of its intense opposition, and three, four weeks later you’re selling the land for industrial?” said ABCO civic leader and former president MaryAnn Johnston. “If [Brookhaven supervisor] Ed Romaine’s philosophy is already-owned land should be kept open space, why all of a sudden this?”

She said she believes the site is contaminated and the town wants to get rid of it. She also requested the town test the site prior to selling it to be sure the new owners will properly care for it. Though, ultimately, she hoped for the preservation of the land in its entirety.

Town officials said the land is not contaminated as it has only been used for the screening of sand and the processing of vegetative waste to produce mulch and compost. No landfilling of waste or ash has occurred at this location. The site, which is approximately 40% cleared, according to the town, is not suitable for preservation because of the amount of area cleared and active use. Funds from sale of the property would be placed into a reserve account for costs associated with retiring debt and the future maintenance costs of the landfill past its closure date, at no cost to the taxpayer.

According to Town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly, who recommended the zone change, the Carmans River Conservation plan did not recommend any up or down change of zone or to restrict it to open space.  However, the planning department recommended limiting the future uses of the property to exclude solid waste transfer stations, laundry, day cares, schools, lodges, places of worship, anaerobic digesters, bars, taverns, night, clubs, recreation—indoor or outdoor--, airports and more. Technically, Supervisor Ed Romaine said, the only permitted use would be an industrial park complex.

After about 20 speakers voiced strong opposition to the zone change, Romaine and members of the board decided to postpone their vote and extend the public comment period.

Brookhaven Town announced on March 4 that it was ending its plan to construct a regional municipal ashfill at the Yaphank site, with reasons including its cost, receiving only one RFP, and the burden on the community as stated in the town's Ad Hoc Committee's Brookhaven Ashfill Exploratory Report. Founders of the Brookhaven Town Landfill Action & Remediation Group then formed to demand a landfill cleanup and zero-waste plan. Many of its members and members of the Brookhaven NAACP were present and spoke during the July 15th meeting.

BLARG member Shoshanna Hershkowitz noted that the information for the zone change was not immediately accessible and requested extra time to consider it in an effort to be fully transparent.

“This community needs to heal and breathe from this toxicity,” added founding member Abena Asare. “It’s time to do the right thing.”

During the meeting, several arguments and loud offhand comments were made. Addressing the crowd, councilman Dan Panico claimed he wanted to get on the same page with the same basic factual information before coming to a disagreement. The planning department also promised there has been no application made on the property, nor is there any indication of a prospective buyer. Romaine then motioned to leave the hearing open for public comment for an additional 30 days.

To submit a public comment email townclerk@brookhavenNY.gov.

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