Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Suffolk County Ponders Reshaping Rural Landscape

Questions Of Preserving Open Space, Limiting Density, NIMBY, Come To The Fore

Steve Levy, the Suffolk County Executive, has ambitious plans for Yaphank -- arenas, a county center, and, at long last, affordable housing.

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing -- particularly in still somewhat rural Suffolk County, where visions of potato farms and pumpkin patches still dance in the head of many a Long Islander.

Developers, seizing upon Steve Levy's vision -- and the opportunity to make big bucks -- have come forward with a number of proposals (Avalon Bay; Legacy Village), each fraught with hazards running the gamut from an overly-burdensome density, to what could be an overwhelming assault upon the last of Long Island's open space.

The zeal of the developers must be tempered, just as the County Exec's enthusiasm to bring affordable housing, modern recreational facilities, and a better quality of life to Suffolk County, must not be diminished.

Suffolk's leaders and activists have the benefit of the Nassau County experience -- with its haphazad, anything goes, overdevelopment and foolhearty, politically motivated zoning -- to consider and to learn from. The lessons should not go unheeded.

Nassau is a built-out hodge-podge in terms of both residential and commercial development, lacking preservable open space, adequate affordable housing, and a coherent, comprehensive plan to revitalize and re-energize "Main Street," the great expanse and experiment of "the hub" -- the fate of which remains uncertain -- notwithstanding.

How much is too much? What is the right "mix" of residential, light industrial, commercial, and recreational? What impact will the "urbanization" of Suffolk's heartland have on the environment, and upon the aquifers that lie below?

Among other unanswered questions, that's exactly what we need to know.

Its good to have vision, and proposals for development and growth that flow from such vision. Are the plans economically driven? On the part of developers, of course they are. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is, after all, the American way.

Still, before any plan is approved; before the first shovel is put to pay dirt, each proposal -- and surely, many more will follow -- must be analyzed, scrutinized and held out for public view and comment.

It is only then that the best of all worlds -- where vision meets with development -- can transform that raw canvass into the dreamscape envisioned by the Suffolk County Executive.

And then, borrowing from what will hopefully be Suffolk's success, Nassau County can begin to reclaim its brownfields, providing a platform from which may spring the revival of "downtown" -- with affordable housing at its core -- resuscitating the great American dream of suburbia.

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