Why Is Nassau So Far Behind?
"Mixed-use" -- that integrated, seamless blend of high-density residential, retail, and recreational development seen as the renewal of suburbia for Smart Growth adherents, is grabbing hold in Suffolk.
From Huntington to Riverhead, the elected as well as the electorate are beginning to get it, with mixed-use projects either underway or on the drawing board.
They're bringing the pedestrian traffic back to "Main Street," and with it, a new found vitality to downtown, and, of equal import, a renewed sense of community to those who work -- and now can live -- in the heart of it all.
Exciting, yes. Still, one must ask why Nassau County, America's first suburb, lags behind in jumping on the mixed-use, Smart Growth bandwaggon.
Yes, we're cash-strapped, space-deprived, and set in our old ways of thinking of suburbia as sub-division housing and sprawling strip malls, to and from which we must invariably drive our cars, in desperate search of the one last parking space.
We need to look beyond the bridges of our noses (before they set up toll booths on them), and envision a Long Island that is livable, walkable, and sustainable.
For quite some time now, the mixed-use, Smart Growth approach has been transforming the suburban landscape -- for the better, we believe -- across the nation. It is catching on from the 110 corridor to points east.
Nassau County, and its townships that maintain the upper hand in planning and zoning, need to get on board the mixed-use, Smart Growth express, before that train, too, has left the station.
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From Suffolk Life:
Is Mixed-Use The Wave Of The Future?
By George Wallace
Some people think that it will lead to congestion and increasingly intensified land use. Others believe it will relieve residential sprawl and create a more livable, non-urban future for the suburbs. Either way, mixed-use residential developments are increasing in America's suburbs. And, according to those who support the notion, Suffolk County is making up for lost time in getting on board with the concept.
Jean Larsen, with Prudential Commercial Real Estate Services in Medford, who just got back from a national conference on the subject in Las Vegas, contends that Long Island officials need to have "an open mind to mixed-use development. The nation as a whole is embracing [the idea] and doing it well." Another advocate of mixed-use plans, Eric Alexander, of Vision Long Island, noted that while the area may have been behind the times, "I think we're emerging now. There's been significant process in the last few years," he said. "Across Long Island there are 50 different smart growth projects, probably eight mega projects which could have those criteria."
Among them? In Yaphank, despite some fears in the community over a county-initiated project, two developers are undergoing a vetting process for a project that could create 2,000 or more residences. In Shoreham, the developers of a project known as Tallgrass recently gained a 5-2 vote of approval after scaling back their plan. Described as a "pedestrian-friendly village center with retail stores and offices, [with variously] designed homes," the number of housing units in the development was reduced from 542 to 378.
Then there is the Heartland project in Brentwood, a proposal for a major complex of residential, commercial and community facilities with a downtown center on the site of the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital. "That project is in the middle of approvals," said Alexander. "They've got sewer credits - awaiting from the state - [and] clearance to sign off from [Department of Transportation]."
Meanwhile, existing downtowns are weighing in on the potential for mixed-use redevelopment.
In a recent state of the town address, Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale lauded mixed-land use projects, and described a $100 million plan for the downtown area.
In Huntington, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone stated that three mixed-use redevelopment plans show that his community is coming to terms with the national trend. There's a proposal for retail space on the ground floors of a new structure that has yet to built along New York Avenue near the railroad station, with a cultural center above. Groundbreaking is anticipated by the end of the year. At the corner of New York Avenue and Gerard Street, a new building was put up that has shops downstairs and residences upstairs. Similarly, at the corner of Main Street and New Street, a recently constructed Wachovia Bank facility has residences upstairs.
"Little restaurants are popping up now on New Street," said Petrone. "We have had to change the code somewhat to permit these, but we think a village should try to attract young people, and older people, too. The key is to have walkable communities, to have a place where people can walk, shop and don't need vehicles. It becomes a social and cultural experience."
Mixed-use projects sometimes encounter fear from established residents, who are afraid they will lead to a drain on the infrastructure, land use intensification and a loss of the late 20th-century model of a suburbia that allows for single-family homes on individually owned parcels of land. But advocates argue that one of the hidden benefits of such developments is that it reduces the march of "McMansions" and suburban sprawl, while actually reducing traffic, rather than increasing it.
"Suburban sprawl is the biggest enemy of our future," said Larsen. "It is the enemy of nature, it takes every square inch of available land, and contributes to traffic problems."
For those who think that mixed-use projects will create an intensified density of residences, she countered that "the way we do it now, we're creating road density not living density."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy agreed. "Mixed use is the wave of the future," he stated. "It will mitigate traffic on the roads. People will be able to take a stroll to get a loaf of bread - you don't have to get in the car every time you want to deal with the most basic parts of life.
"We're going into a new era for suburbia," he said. "And these are the prototypes that, once established, will be sought out."