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'Not Needed, Not Wanted:' Huntington Residents Push Back Against Developer's Plan For Commercial Center

TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A large area of open space on Long Island could soon be cleared to make room for what residents are calling a mega-mall.

But many say that's the last thing they need and they're asking elected officials to keep a decade-old promise.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, a battle is brewing over a developer's plan for an upscale shopping and office center on vacant land just three miles from the existing Walt Whitman mall.

"This developer is bringing in a project that has nothing to do with this community, that is not needed and not wanted," Huntington resident Tracy Kleinsberg said.

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Villadom's Elwood Orchard (Credit: Mark Stumer, Mojo Stumer Associates)

There are more than 7,000 signatures on a petition against developer Villadom, which calls its project a "lifestyle commercial center." Renderings show a sleek three-story fitness center, retail and office space on 50 acres, adjacent to an orchard and privately owned.

But there's public alarm. The main drag through western Suffolk County, Jericho Turnpike, is already jam-packed. Opponents liken the development to the size of the Nassau Coliseum, bringing 1,400 cars per hour – impacting water quality and wildlife.

"We've seen enough malls, we've seen enough vacant stores up and down Jericho Turnpike," said Dix Hills resident Brad Schneider.

"You can't get around in this area now," East Northport resident Jim Leonick.

Villadom's Elwood Orchard (Credit: Mark Stumer, Mojo Stumer Associates)

The property is zoned for one-acre homes in the town's decade-old comprehensive plan. The proposed development would require a zoning change.

"We consider that comprehensive plan a contract between the Town of Huntington and the residents of the town," said Dix Hills resident Gail Jospa.

A spokesperson for Villadom told CBS2 in a statement, "Elwood Orchard will provide a much needed boost to the commercial tax base in Elwood, bringing more than $4 million in tax revenue to community with nearly $3 million going to the school district, and creating 750 construction jobs and 950 permanent jobs for local residents. Villadom is proposing to construct a new and permanent home for the Elwood Library as part of the site. This non-residential development will reduce the school tax burden on residents by approximately $600 per household and not add one single student. Elwood Orchard will comply with all state and local water protection standards and the proposed use does not present an adverse impact on ground water."

The company has also set up a Facebook page to address some of the community's concerns.

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Villadom's Elwood Orchard (Credit: Mark Stumer, Mojo Stumer Associates)

Still, residents are skeptical.

"If we don't believe what he's telling us, then you take that tax benefit out of the equation. There's no benefit to the surrounding area," Leonick said.

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said the town is still gathering facts.

"We look at everything from congestion, we look at whether or not retail space is needed, we look at the public benefit," he said.

There's so much interest in the proposed zoning change, a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17 had to be moved to a larger venue -- from the Town Hall to Elwood Middle School.

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