Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Planning For Long Island's Future

Does Long Island's New Regional Planner Actually Have A Plan?

We always laughed -- usually out loud -- when anyone used the word "planning" in the same sentence as "Long Island."

A generation or two of haphazard development, unbridled growth, and reckless, "wink-n-nod" zoning has left much of our Island -- particularly the business districts (or what's left of them) -- looking like Berlin after the blitz.

Transportation, where it exists at all, is a mess. Congestion is everywhere. Walkability, and the very idea of "neighborhood," has gone out the door, with livability following close behind.

Look around most Long Island communities and you'd be hard pressed to say that anyone had a "plan" -- let alone a vision that evolved into a workable plan -- when projects lept from drawing board to street corner.

Both counties on Long Island have Planning Commissions, and the Towns all have offices that operate under the blatant misnomer of Planning & Economic Development, but truth is, there hasn't been any real master plan -- a viable, sustainable plan -- for our Island since developers first put asphalt to potato field in the late 1940s.

And so, when Long Island's new Planning Czar, Michael White, formally takes office this week, we cannot help but wonder whether, in fact, he has a plan, will find a plan, or will at least call upon others, those who would like to see some plans, to get together to make plans for Long Island's future.

White told Newsday his immediate plans are to call for an island-wide planning summit, with the hope of getting all interested parties on the same page -- or at least in the same book.

Good luck with that, Mike.

We've seen summits come and go (mostly go) on Long Island -- property tax summits, school finance summits, even community alliance summits -- with way too little in the way of tangible result to show for it.

Still, we do need plans, and the planners to plan them, and perhaps Mr. White will be the catalyst we've longed for -- a man who can, as he put it, "engage all levels."

We wish Michael White the best of luck in this new endeavor, and stand ready and willing to join him for a summit and at the drafting table.

Call us, Mike. Let's make plans!
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New planning chief surveys LI's future

By Rick Brand

When the Long Island Regional Planning Board was formed in 1965, its young director Lee Koppelman was charged with bringing order to a roaring suburban boom, fueled by the city's post-war generation looking for a backyard paradise.

Tomorrow, Michael White will officially step in as Koppelman's successor and begin trying to unknot vexing problems that face the region's aging suburbs in the new millennium.Those problems are daunting.

Housing has become so expensive that offspring of baby boomers cannot afford to live anywhere but their parents' basements, forcing an exodus off the Island. Add to that surcharges that nearly equal the bill for electricity, high property taxes and exotic mortgage financing that eats up more wages than it should. Throw in traffic snarls that produce smog, delay and agita because there is little mass transit. And if that wasn't enough, there still is the need to preserve land and protect the water supply, while attracting new business to avoid a brain drain of those educated in local schools.

"We know the problems, and what has caused the problems," said White, 51, an environmental lawyer. "What we need is to focus on the end line of the solutions and the plans for implementing those solutions rather than just draw plans that sit on a shelf."

White studiously avoided mentioning Koppelman, who led the region's planning efforts for the past four decades until he resigned under pressure last year amid questions about the board's finances and its payments to former Suffolk Legis. Wayne Prospect, who has been convicted of bribe-taking. During his time, Koppelman successfully pressed for a county road network, sewers, open space and farmland purchases, as well as studies to protect the region's groundwater. But in other areas, particularly housing, he was largely ignored.

"We just can't rely on doing things from the top down," White said. "We have to engage all levels and that's what has been lacking. We have to make the towns and villages an integral part of the planning process. We don't have all the answers we need for good collaborative solutions."

Toward that end, White said he expects the agency will call an Islandwide planning summit to get all levels of government and interest groups working together.

Although declining to take a stand on most regional issues, White spoke out on a proposal to build an offshore liquid natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. "No one has made a convincing argument that Long Island needs Broadwater," he said. White, to underline his understanding of his role, emphasized he works for his board and intends to spend as much time in Nassau as in Suffolk in his $140,000-a-year job.

While a long-time resident of Centerport in Suffolk, White said he has worked in Nassau for the past 17 years.White said he also is sensitive to concerns about his wife Judy, a public relations consultant who represents developer Edward Blumenfeld, who is planning the Tanger Outlet Mall in Deer Park. White said if a potential for conflict arises he will disclose and follow proper procedures. He also said he immediately will renew efforts that stalled in Nassau last year to update and expand the board into a planning council. He said the new board will have an annual budget of at least $300,000, a 50 percent increase from current levels, and hopes to raise money from outside as well. He would also like to see three or four employees working directly for the board, rather than use borrowed county staff.

Where planners 40 years ago dealt with an undeveloped landscape, untrusting governments and developers always at odds with civic groups, White says the playing field has changed.

"I don't think the battle lines are absolute any longer," he said. "There's a clear recognition all sides have common interests to resolve issues facing us."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Does he have a plan? Probably. Does it line up with real world needs, I HOPE SO!

    Long Island is dying for economic growth. So why don't we turn this question into a statement and start helping them write the plan?

    Join us at the Long Island Bulletin Board to lay out the plan for a better Long Island.