It’s been almost six years since Ghulam Sarwar first pitched a plan for shops and residential units along Montauk Highway in Bellport — just west of Station Road near the Boys & Girls Club.
Sarwar is looking to attract a supermarket, pizza parlor, coffee shop and franchises such as Subway to what’s being envisioned by the community as a Main Street-style downtown center.
With long-awaited zoning changes being approved this July now allowing for mixed development in the area — retail and residential — Sarwar says he’s two weeks away from submitting his plans to the Brookhaven Town Planning Board for potential approvals.
“If the county approves funds for sewers we could start construction right away,” Sarwar said. “And when it’s all over we can create 50 to 60 jobs and hire out to local people. And we can clean this area up.”
Sarwar has accumulated 11.5 acres in Bellport: 4.5 along Montauk Highway to Atlantic Avenue to the north, and another seven acres stretching north from Atlantic Avenue to Patchogue Avenue. It all cost him about $2 million.
He’s planning rental housing units for the seven-acre property.
“But at the end of the day, if we don’t have sewers, we cannot do anything,” he said.
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the county had been waiting on the sidelines as Brookhaven Town, with the help of the Greater Bellport Coalition, developed a re-use plan for the area, which took several years.
With that all coming together in recent months, and with the July rezoning of properties, he said he and fellow Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) are now working to put things in place, sewer-wise, for when development plans appear ready.
“The county’s not going to approve the funding until there’s a point in time where the town has approved a project that would require the infrastructure be in place,” Calarco said. “They’re not going to invest in sewer lines if there’s nothing to hook them up to.”
Last week, the lawmakers announced Suffolk County is directing $250,000 toward determining what’s needed, and how much it would cost, to expand a county plant off County Road 101, north of Sunrise Highway, and run sewer lines south to Bellport and East Patchogue.
“We’re putting the wheels in motion to expand the [sewer treatment plant] when the time comes,” Colarco said, nothing there is a voter-approved, earmarked revenue stream from county sales taxes for sewer projects.
Councilwoman Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) said she has yet to see the plans Sarwar’s preparing to submit to the Planning Board — so she didn’t want to offer an opinion on his latest proposal.
“It’s changed over the many years we’ve been doing this,” she said.
But she does have faith redevelopment could help the long-neglected area flourish, she said.
“There are some issue in North Bellport that we continually work on, but the great majority of people who live there are good, hardworking people and I’m doing everything I can do give them the best chance they can possibly have to better their lives,” Kepert said. “Everybody deserves that.”
She said she’s hopeful the county money for the sewer expansion, which had been estimate in the past to cost $7 million, will come through.
“In the future there will be sewer money, so we’re hoping we’re the next project,” she said.
During a walking tour of his properties Monday, Sarwar, who used to live on Montauk Highway in East Patchogue before moving to Middle Island three years ago, said that with each passing day, the potential for trouble only concerns him more.
“God forbid if anything should happen, who’s responsible if somebody gets killed here?” he asked as he pointed out damaged perimeter fences along his land on Montauk Highway, as well plywood boards pried from some of the vacant buildings.
“All those things that bad people do,” he said. “They break into windows. They do drugs. They do prostitutes. They’re drinking. They’re doing every bad thing. This is bad for the community. It’s bad for neighbors.
“But we can make beautiful buildings, just like Patchogue did,” he continued. “We can create jobs and have less crime and give people opportunity. Bellport deserves that. And I fully expect that Bellport can be changed, and a lot of educated people will want to live here. I hope to do that as soon as possible.”
“But at the end of the day, if we don’t have sewers, we cannot do anything,” he said. “We’re stuck.”
Photo: Ghulam Sarwar on Atlantic Avenue Monday, between his Bellport properties. (Credit: Michael White)