Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Long Island Sustainable?

Smart Growth Versus The Environment: At What Cost Suburbia?

Here at The Community Alliance, "Smart Growth" has become a mantra of sorts -- the homage to walkable downtowns that defy the strip malling of suburban communities.

Yet, is Long Island really making any progess toward the eradication of the blighting of suburbia or in the reversal of ever-encroaching suburban sprawl?

Clearly, "Smart Growth" entails so much more than the planting of a row of Victorian-style street lamps on a block or two along the turnpike, just as "sustainability" must take into account the nature of the suburban lifestyle as well as the nature of what the suburbs have evolved into over the last sixty mostly odd years.

Just what are we sustaining on Long Island, anyway? Egregious property taxes? Crumbling infrastructure? Unaffordable housing? Fiefdoms of yesteryear that masquerade as local government?

And what of our open spaces, few though they may be? Is there anything left to preserve that is green? Are our parks, already strained by years of neglect and now threatened, by dint of fiscal constraints, with complete abandonment, destined to go the way of the drive-in movie?

Our friends, Neal Lewis of the Long Island Neighborhood Network and Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, battle daily on the front lines, agonizing over efforts to "grow" Long Island into a 21st century suburban showplace, while, at the same time, preserving that which brought folks to the island in the first place -- fresh air, clean water, pristine beaches, and the vision of a truly utopian suburbia.

Can we sustain and preserve that which is good about our island while, at the same time, engaging the principles -- as well as economic realities and physical practicalities -- of "Smart Growth"?

Of course we can. All it takes to accomplish the seemingly impossible, without attempting to turn back the clock to the 1950s, is vision, leadership, and a sharp and undeterred focus on the future.

We can not only see the trees for the forest. We can save those trees, while still creating a Long Island that, in more than mere rhetoric, is sustainable, walkable, and livable.
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From Long Island Business News:

Controversy Growing Over Long Island Land Preservation

At war over what's best for Long Island -- 1,401 square miles, population of some 7.6 million -- environmentalists envision the island ''without McMansions,'' want to rein in developers before there is ''a Best Buy or Stop & Shop on every street corner,'' and seek protection for 35,000 acres, to save its quality of life, its environment, and its vital farming, fishing and tourism industries, while market advocates argue against hurting the economy and taxpayers, reports Long Island Business News writer Michael H. Samuels, with a peacemaker, Neighborhood Network Executive Director Neal Lewis, hoping both sides will eventually see common interests in smart growth and more housing options.

So far, ''(a)ll it takes is one trip down nearly any major road on Long Island, where strip malls and big-box stores clutter the landscape, to note that environmentalists have every right to distrust developers,'' the writer observes, quoting Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Dick Amper. ''They seem perfectly willing to destroy all that is great about Long Island regardless of the consequences for Long Island's future,'' he said, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito adding that another 35,000 acres for preservation ''may sound like a lot, but it really isn't,'' because if viewed ''in the context of how much has already been developed on Long Island, we're already talking about what's left, not about what was lost.''

On the other side, Association for a Better Long Island (ABLI) Executive Director Desmond Ryan calls the proposal ''grandiose,'' asking himself ''who is paying'' for land conservation. ''The reality is that the taxpayers are hemorrhaging big time,'' he replies, describing their payments as fourfold -- to buy land, finance debt services, forego taxes and eliminate any potential new revenue, all of which doesn't include open space maintenance costs. He also considers Director Amper an extremist. ''Long Island is about 2 percent of the national economy,'' he argues. ''Of that a third is tied to real estate. That's people who buy a house, buy carpets, put on a new roof and buy appliances. There is a spin-off effect that plays a vital role from an economic aspect.''

And ABLI President Mitchell Rechler, co-managing partner of Rechler Equity Partners, notes that with little open space left, much preservation focuses on previously used and now vacant sites, better suited for redevelopment. In addition, Long Island Builders Institute Executive Vice President Michael Watt and some developers, including RXE principal Scott Rechler, say they are already moving in a new direction. The former is working with Nassau and Suffolk counties on smart growth, and he assures the writer that developers are ready to respond to any public outcry for multi-family housing, including apartments. The latter points out that his Glen Isle project, on a former blighted Superfund site in Glen Cove, features open space along the North Shore waterfront. ''You want to try to marry the right amount of open space in the community with the right amount of development,'' he says. ''When you sprawl them out, that's not good for the community.''

To help developers and environmentalists reach a compromise, the writer suggests a trade. ''Developers can't touch parcels of 50 to 100 acres or more if environmentalists agree to allow increases in density to make it easier to build on smaller lots, with any land not planned for development going to open space preservation,'' he writes, asking top antagonists, directors Amper and Ryan if they think ''that's good enough.'' -- Long Island Business News 2/13/2009

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