By Hank Russell
A group of local elected officials came to the Vision Long Island Summit on December 2 to share details of their ongoing projects to bring the neighborhoods in their communities into the 21st century. Many of these projects focused on Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) and affordable housing.
In Smithtown, projects include 188 residential units in Nesconset for those 55 and over, 98 fully occupied units in Commack and 36 fully occupied units in Kings Park that are not age-restricted. Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim said more housing will be constructed across the street from Town Hall, with 72 market-rate, non-age-restricted apartments.
“We are moving in Smithtown, not just single-family housing, but with multifamily housing developments, which we feel is important,” he said.
“Multiple family units housing is the way to go,” added Amityville Mayor Dennis Siry. “You’re not getting downtown revitalized without bringing people down here.” He admitted that he was initially an opponent of multifamily housing. “I realized you need to have feet on the street to get people into the downtowns.”
Riverhead has 14 senior communities within the town, which, according to Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, is the most in Suffolk County. Future plans include the development of a town square with mixed-use and affordable housing. “What is lacking here … is the young professional.”
When her residents hear “affordable housing,” they “get upset,” North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said. “There’s this myth of too many schoolchildren, it’s going to overwhelm our schools.” She said she saw other municipalities develop multifamily housing units, which, she said, “did not overrun the schools.”
Augiar said the key to development is balance. “You can’t overexpand and you can’t have one type of expansion,” she said. “You have to have that balance for young, old and young professionals.”
However, not all municipalities are thriving. North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena told those in attendance that the Great Neck peninsula area has been struggling financially. “They’ve been hurting,” she said. “They used to have great restaurants,” she said. “Everyone remembered, ‘Oh, Great Neck — that’s where you go to shop and dine..’ But now they’re having problems. Some of it is pandemic-related.”
The downtown areas of Carle Place and Manhasset are also experiencing problems, DeSena said, adding that sewers are critically needed to help businesses along Main Street. “This will keep people local, eat local, shop local,” she said. “This is a transformation that’s going on.”
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said the town has been on the forefront of affordable housing since the town’s creation of the Community Development Agency 35 years ago. Under the CDA, 14,000 affordable units have been developed, while Islip has created 10,000 affordable units.
The subject shifted to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) with the new project on Union Boulevard in Bay Shore located near the train station and the bus stop located in front. It is also a walk down the street to the ferry and a 10-minute ride to Islip MacArthur Airport. “You don’t get transportation options better than that,” she said.
The town also received a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant for a mixed-use project in Central Islip that includes residential, retail and an art space. However, the project would require sewers, “The state and DRI people were reticent about us using the money to pay for sewers,” Carpenter said. “If you don’t have sewers, businesses won’t come and you’re not going to get anything revitalized.”
Wehrheim said new sewers have been installed in St. James and are in the process of being installed in Kings Park and the Smithtown hamlet. “That will really afford us the opportunity to move forward with multifamily housing,” he said. “That’s how your business districts thrive; that’s how your town survives. You’re not going to do it with just single-family residential development.”
In the town of Brookhaven, new transit-oriented developments have been constructed in Port Jefferson and Patchogue and more residential development is being built in Farmingville. Despite the new buildings, Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said, “The name of the game is redevelopment.” We look at redevelopment as something that we have to do.”
This includes building residential units in East Patchogue at the former Mediterranean Manor site and another near the New York Blood & Cancer Center on Main Street in East Patchogue and more multifamily units down the street. “Where the village [of Patchogue] stops, we start,” Romaine said. “All of East Patchogue will be transformed.”
He said multifamily is not the sole solution. “If we just look at multifamily, we;re making a mistake,” we have to look at transit because transit in Suffolk, especially in Brookhaven, is antiquated.” The trains run on a “19th-century, dirty technology called diesel,” he added. “I’m waiting for electrification. I’m waiting for the money, which seems to be sucked away to the metropolitan area and we’re not getting our fair share.”
He said he is also waiting for bus subsidies which, he said, goes to Nassau County “far more” than Suffolk. “We should be getting more [subsidies] and we should be tying those bus routes to our train routes so that we have a better transportation system, which we are lacking in this town.”
Romaine added that bus and rail also need to be tied into multifamily housing. “If you have affordable housing and you don’t tie it into easy transportation, you’re kidding yourself.”
Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander said solving problems to improve downtowns is not a Republican or Democrat issue. “This is not about partisan politics that you hear about nationally,” he said. “It’s about people dealing within their communities, real problems.”
As downtowns began to thrive, Alexander said, there was a growing sense of community among residents and businesses. “Communities got tighter and closer. There was more loyalty from Main Street businesses … When you walk through a downtown, you’re more likely to patronize outdoor dining. People would use the parks. People were part of the community and saw each other differently than driving through a town. They weren’t drive-through downtowns, they were active downtowns.”