If Its Written In The New York Times, It Must Be True!
A new (or not so new -- it actually dates back to the 1970s), much discussed (even on this blog), highly-touted vision for the development -- and revitalization -- of the urban landscape, as well as suburbia (such that it is), embracing the concepts of walkable downtowns, mixed-use, transit-oriented, high-density, affordable housing, and the reversal of the strip-mall mentality that has given rise to the sprawling of America.
The New York Times featured an article on various projects underway (or soon to be) here on Long Island that, at least in theory, fall under the umbrella of "Smart Growth," this in a region that, but for eastern Suffolk County, is pretty much built out, where growth -- begun with a spurt in the late 1940s -- has been anything but smart, and planning/zoning are as an anathema.
Indeed, notwithstanding the nominal existence of a regional planning and county planning boards -- where Master Plans apparently go to die -- Long Island has, over the past half century, been witness to what can be best categorized as haphazard development, seemingly bereft of any real or functional plans, other than those long ago shelved and collecting dust in the belly of the archives.
Zoning, left mainly to the Towns, has, until recently, been "wink and nod," build it any way you want, building code excepted, creating a hodge podge along "Main Street" that resembles the work of Dr. Frankenstein.
Having been hoisted on their own petard -- viewing the now crumbling and outmoded "downtowns" of Long Island's towns and hamlets for the barren wastelands they have become -- local zoning boards, often sitting as planning boards, are picking up the mantra of "Smart Growth," even where their newly-found enthusiasm for "getting it right" merely masquerades as "smart," and whose "plans," on the heels of "blight studies," are too often paraded down "Main Street" as ersatz "renewal."
Where America's oldest suburb cries out for the creation of a true, workable Master Plan, in draftsmanship and execution, "Smart Growth" appears to be gaining hold but piecemeal, in drips and drabs, and with great reluctance on the part of localities -- namely the townships -- to abandon the arcane and archaic in favor of the future.
A spot build here and a nod to "Smart Growth" there. Very little in the way of a comprehensive plan that would take Long Island, still mired in the 1950s, with a mall and sprawl mentality -- and a decaying infrastructure to show for it -- into the 21st Century.
Well, at least its a start!
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From The New York Times:
‘Smart Growth’ Takes Hold
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER
TYPICALLY, apartments around here aren’t any more than two stories high. But off Middle Country Road, Avalon Charles Pond is a symbol of the future. Its three and a half stories will house 200 one- and two-bedroom luxury rentals.
The new nine-building development represents the new era of so-called smart growth projects on the Island. “Eventually this will be the center of Coram; this will be the hub,” said Connie Kepert, a Brookhaven councilwoman, envisioning more mixed-use development with retailing on the first floor and apartments or offices above. She contrasted this vision of Coram to “traditional downtowns” like Northport and Patchogue.
In years past, developments that put homes, workplaces and services closer together were often viewed askance. But in the last year, a number of higher-density projects have won the approval of civic associations and elected officials.
Some are mixed-use projects; others are transit-oriented developments; many incorporate ecologically sensitive elements. Each with at least 150 units and up to nine stories tall, they reduce hodgepodge sprawl and include more concentrated, vertical residential design, yet aren’t so massive that they loom over their neighbors.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a smart-growth planning group, said that in the last year approvals had been issued for a number of developments in addition to Avalon Charles Pond, which is developed by AvalonBay Communities.
Other projects, either new or close to fruition, include: a nine-story condominium in Mineola called the Winston; the Village Center in Islandia, a mixed-use development with hotels, residential condominiums, retailing and office space, and a plaza built on 12.6 vacant acres; a 349-unit transit-oriented apartment project by AvalonBay in Rockville Centre; and two projects by the Atlanta-based Trammel Crow Residential, one in downtown Hempstead Village and the other in West Hempstead.
“It is this oddball combination of higher density and community support” that has until recently been “antithetical to the perception of density and development on the Island,” Mr. Alexander said. “With the right locations and the right types of projects and the right type of process you can get positive results.”
He also pointed out that these alternative approaches to development are “market-viable projects in an economic downturn.”Early this month, after a 15-year effort to shutter the Courtesy Hotel — a locus of crime in West Hempstead — the Nassau County Planning Board took a major step toward that goal by giving Trammel Crow Residential the go-ahead to use the site for the Alexan at West Hempstead Station.
Rosalie Norton, president of the West Hempstead Civic Association, said the 150-unit Alexan would fulfill “a desperate need for housing” and draw more riders to the train, while “not destroying the suburban character of our community.”
She added that the commercial setting of the project — by the West Hempstead station of the Long Island Rail Road but “more than 200 feet away from residential homes” — was “a classic example of the right location.” The rental apartments have “so many positive aspects,” she concluded, that “the fear of the ‘what ifs’ suddenly stops.”
Kathleen P. Murray, the Hempstead town supervisor, said the project was approved once the developer reduced the number of units to 150 from 225 — which had been “very significantly over what was allowable.” An extra acre of adjacent land, which the railroad agreed to sell to the town for $1, has also helped ease concerns about density. The acre, now untended asphalt, will be redone as open green space.
As for the Islandia Village Center, Mr. Alexander says its planned location in an office corridor “sets an example of mixed-use development that has never occurred on the Island.”
Joseph Prokop, the lawyer for the Village of Islandia, said a new zoning district was created last month for the project. It is to include a seven-story 175-room hotel and a three-story 100-room hotel, as well as an eight-story 150-unit condo tower, two restaurants, a 31,000-square-foot two-story building with retail and office space, and a plaza with a built-in amphitheater and park benches.
Then there is the Winston in Mineola, a nine-story 285-condo development planned for Old Country Road, a block from the Mineola station. It received unanimous village board approval in February, despite its height.
The developer, Vincent Polimeni, said he “went in aggressively with a nine-story building, which is unheard of on Long Island.”
Normally, he said, “I get yelled at.” But in this case he got “a standing ovation,” he said, for the one, two and three-bedroom condominiums, which will average $450,000.
The redevelopment, on the site of former office buildings, got this positive reception because it stands to help cope with an influx of empty nesters and first nesters, and to generate income for the school district. Mr. Polimeni is also providing lower-cost housing in a separate building two blocks away.
Neal Lewis, the executive director of the Long Island Neighborhood Network, an environmental and civic advocacy group, said it was important to move away from “just immediately opposing projects if it is more than three stories or if it is more than 10 units to an acre.”
“Those kinds of standards have been a real impediment to trying to address the need for affordable housing and the need to have vibrant downtowns,” Mr. Lewis said.
With the right design, the proper location and community engagement, he added, “there is more public receptivity to projects that might have been considered high-density and might have been dead on arrival in past years.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company