Smart Growth Seeps Into Suburbia, But Apparently, Not In Hempstead Town
A recent study by the Long Island Index -- the folks who study things like this -- reveals that a majority of LIers favor higher density, particularly as part and parcel of the redevlopment of "downtown."
61% of those surveyed, in fact, think high-density housing in our downtown areas is a good thing.
And in a region where single-family houses were said to be sacrosanct, even the idea of the typical suburban scene -- a Levitt home on a 60' by 100' lot, surrounded by a white picket fence -- is giving way to that new suburban mindset of more rental units, more housing in downtown areas, and taller buildings along 'Main Street.'
In fact, the forward-looking trend, and not only among housing experts and Smart Growth advocates, is that, in order to maintain our suburban quality of life, and keep Long Island economically sustainable, there must be "...inclusionary zoning, which would require that a share of new housing construction be sold at prices that are affordable to low, moderate or middle-income individuals; incentives to municipalities to zone for higher density housing, a share of which would be for moderate/middle income households; and transit-oriented development, in which transportation agencies, housing agencies and municipalities cooperate to create new residential or mixed-use communities around train stations and other transit facilities."
Not new ideas, certainly, but surely those whose time have finally come, at least as far as Long Island homeowners are concerned.
Of course, not everyone is so inclined to move Long Island into the 20th century, let alone the 21st.
Take the Supervisor and Town Board in Hempstead Town (PLEASE!), where being stuck in the 1950s has become the favorite pasttime of local officials.
In the Town of Hempstead, density (other than as the cerebral affliction suffered by the members of the Town Board), is viewed entirely as a negative, even in instances where the community favors density as a tool for redevelopment.
Last Tuesday, for instance, the Town Board, in its infinite lack of wisdom, and stubborn adherence to the old and failed, turned down the request of the West Hempstead community for the private sale of a no-tell motel to a developer who would have built upscale apartment units (saying the proposal was "too dense"), in favor of the adoption of an "Urban" Renewal plan (we thought this was suburbia) that was scorned by local civic associations, community leaders, and Smart Growth advocates alike.
Leaving aside the very real question of "whatever happened to representative government?" [In Hempstead Town? Who's kidding whom?], there's the substantive issue of what is truly in the community's -- and Long Island's -- best interest.
Walter Ejnes, a longtime West Hempstead resident and a member of the West Hempstead Civic Association's Executive Board, expressed dismay over the Town Board's decision -- one which we would say was based on ignorance (both of the facts, and of the will of the people).
"Talk about perfect timing. The unfortunate result of the town board clearly shows that our leaders are not only out of touch with the community's wishes, but also out of touch with the economic development experts on Long Isand. Many of you may have read or heard about the report that came out today on the Housing situation on LI. The report is prepared annually by the Long Island Index, which is made up of LI's top economists and economic development professionals.
"The 2008 report was released just this morning and the focus of this year's report is that Long Islander's want to see changes in the zoning laws to allow higher densities to allow for apartments. While we often talk about our young professionals, the most striking surprise was that the Baby Boomers showed the most support for this concept as they see apartments and rentals as a viable option to stay on LI. It makes sense as they could sell their homes, rent and avoid the high taxes that come with ownership."
Here is an excerpt from the Long Island Index report's recommendations:
Young residents share the goals of their parents’ generation; they hope to own a large single-family home in a suburban setting where homes are spaced apart and offer privacy. They also acknowledge that this goal will be hard to attain and may be willing to entertain some alternative routes to attain this goals, including life in an apartment or condo in a local downtown area. The young generation may leave or stay on Long Island; they were almost equally likely to think they might move locally or out of the area in the next five years. Much will depend on their financial ability to meet housing costs. Unfortunately, they are also especially pessimistic about Long Island’s future, a bad sign for the area’s future vibrancy. In contrast, there is evidence that older Long Islanders, likely empty nesters, are interested in downsizing, perhaps as a way to capitalize on the value of a large single family home.
Baby boomers and seniors express an interest in alternative housing and in living in walkable neighborhoods. A sizeable number of baby boomers can also imagine living in a condo or apartment downtown. This demonstrates a willingness to change. Unfortunately, baby boomers are also seriously contemplating leaving Long Island. This reflects a concern over high taxes and the possible departure of family members. But it also seems like a situation that could be addressed through local development and the creation of more affordable, alternative housing solutions that carry a lighter tax load. Baby boomers have equity in their homes and will spend that on housing somewhere. Why not on Long Island? These findings provide much fuel for thought about the future direction of local development.
Why not Long Island, indeed!
Clearly, Long Islanders are beginning to understand that affordable housing, increased density (particularly in or near downtown business districts), and keeping folks on the Island, rather than forcing them to move away by reason of high property taxes and low housing options, is our salvation, not suburbia's ruin.
Too bad that local officials the likes of Hempstead Town's Kate Murray just can't see the forest for the few trees we have left here.
Perhaps that's why America's largest township has been turned into America's most blighted township (with Hempstead Town having the blight studies to prove it), and why, when those few remaining trees do fall on Long Island, there may no longer be anyone around to hear them!
- - -
Click HERE to read the Newsday story, Long Islanders would trade houses for apartments.
- - -
From the Editorial page of Newsday:
Time is right to build up downtowns
The people are way ahead of the politicians, again.
A new survey by the Long Island Index shows that people are now more receptive to downtown living - including taller buildings and even multistory parking garages - as an alternative to sprawl. Yet most village mayors and town supervisors have failed to embrace the obvious: The only way we can grow is up.
Our traditional, single-family-home model of growth, one that now includes 85 percent of Long Islanders, is no longer sustainable. Housing costs are so high that young people are leaving at rates that will deprive us of the future workforce we need to keep our economy humming. Property taxes are through the roof. And we're running out of land.
"We have an ocean telling us to find some other way," said Ann Golob, the Index project director, at the report's unveiling yesterday at Farmingdale State College. And the former mayor of Greenport, David Kapell, added: "For a real solution to emerge, we need to think vertically in a big way." Unfortunately, few mayors - Paul Pontieri of Patchogue is a notable exception - see it that way.
Too many local politicians view density and height as the untouchable third rails of land-use planning, and there are some loud voices in the community that encourage that sort of fear-think. But the Index survey shows that half of Long Islanders now favor raising building heights in downtown from two to four stories, to allow for apartments above stores. That's a 10-point increase in that attitude since 2004.
It's clear: Young Long Islanders want vibrant downtowns with affordable rental units. If we don't listen and get it done, we're waving goodbye to our future.
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.