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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Maurice Barbash, builder and environmental activist

NEW YORK — Maurice ­Barbash — a homebuilder and environmental activist who was instrumental in blocking two giant projects that threatened to radically alter Long Island’s environment, a $6 billion nuclear power plant near completion on the North Shore, and a four-lane highway that Robert Moses, a powerful master planner, proposed building along the spine of Fire Island — died March 13 in Bay Shore, N.Y.

His death at 88, several weeks after heart surgery at Southside Hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Susan.

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When he took on Moses and later the Long Island Lighting Co. over its nuclear plant in Shoreham, Mr. Barbash had already established an unusual reputation among developers as the builder who loved trees. Beginning in the 1950s, he often clustered houses in a development to maximize green space, a concept decades ahead of its time, and to maintain the character of the landscape.

Probably the fullest expression of that idea was Dunewood, a development of 100 identical cottages-in-the-woods that his company, Barbash Associates of Babylon, shoehorned into a leafy section of Fire Island. Mr. Barbash himself owned a Dunewood house.

Moses had long talked of building a highway on Fire ­Island, the slender, 32-mile-long barrier beach on Long Island’s South Shore. In 1962, having transformed much of metropolitan New York with bridges, tunnels, parks, and parkways, he revived the notion as president of the Long Island State Park Commission.

He envisioned a highway running about 5miles along the center of the island, between two existing bridges to Long Island, that would stimulate its economy, offer motorists a scenic drive, and help protect the island’s beaches from further erosion.

Summer residents recoiled at the thought of a highway in their paradise, which in places is little more than a sandbar only several hundred feet wide .

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Mr. Barbash, who was known as Murray, told interviewers that he could not have beaten Moses head-to-head. Moses had bulldozed neighborhoods and dispatched almost every opponent. Instead, Mr. Barbash and a group of Fire Island residents, including Irving Like, a lawyer who was also his brother-in-law, seized on a little-noticed proposal in a federal publication recommending that Fire Island’s seashore be considered for designation as a national park.

The group, the Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore, outflanked Moses in a two-year grass-roots lobbying campaign. Eventually they turned local opinion, and even the opinion of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, Moses’ boss, in favor of establishing the national park. It was dedicated on Sept. 11, 1964.

Maurice Barbash was born in the Bronx, the only child of Shep and Sadie Barbash.

Mr. Barbash and his wife, who were married in 1947, shared a love of classical music. For their 40th wedding anniversary, they commissioned a cello concerto for a friend they had known since the 1970s, when he played in the student orchestra at Harvard with their daughter Cathy. The friend was cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

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