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Source: LI Herald

$350K study to look at downtown development


Posted: December 5, 2012
Originally Published: December 5, 2012

The planning division of the Nassau County Department of Public Works has partnered with several organizations to conduct a federally funded study that will explore ways to promote development in three yet-to-be-determined downtowns surrounding Long Island Rail Road stations.

DPW Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias said the county has received $350,000 of a $3.5 million New York and Connecticut Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant to conduct the study. Funds were awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Partners taking part in the study will determine three of 21 possible locations for the study, which will look at ways to improve quality of life and the economy for local residents and business owners.

Representatives of the planning division, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Envision Long Island and Citizens Campaign for the Environment have been meeting with civic leaders from across the county to determine which areas would be most suitable to begin pilot planning programs.

Shah-Gavnoudias said the purpose of the Nassau County Infill Redevelopment Feasibility Study is twofold. “One is to collect and synthesize all of the local planning efforts that are going on in Nassau County into one comprehensive report,” she said. “The second is to study three station areas for pilot plans that will either be site plans or rezoning plans.”

Sean Sallie, a county senior planner, explained that the objective is to form “working collaborations” among the major players needed for regional planning efforts, ranging from village trustees to state Department of Transportation officials.

Sallie added those working on the project try to refrain from calling it a study. “We’re trying to get away from that because this is really more than just studying,” he said, noting that it’s more about moving “local projects forward.”

The project will be completed in two phases, Sallie said. Phase one will be an assessment of existing conditions at the 21 LIRR stations, which include Baldwin, Bellmore, Lynbrook, Merrick, Rockville Centre, Valley Stream and West Hempstead, among others. In phase two, study partners will select the project’s three stations.

Economic development and affordable housing opportunities, potential for pedestrian and transportation facility infrastructure improvement, and transportation links to major sites of potential employment will be explored at the stations and their environs.

Partners have reached out to local civic leaders in a series of three meetings, with the last scheduled for Dec. 6, to find out more about existing conditions in their communities, including current land use, zoning regulations, transportation conditions, and existing plans and studies. In the focus groups, community members were asked to identify the level of physical suitability of their area for transit-oriented development, whether developers would be interested in working in their area, whether the public would be interested in development, and whether there is sufficient leadership in place to move projects forward.

Tom Jost, senior urban strategist at Parsons Brinckerhoff and a project consultant, said the partners are examining each area individually because conditions vary from one community to the next.

“Your community is going to be different than the next community over,” he said. “Every single one of these communities has a different set of things that they are trying to achieve.”

Leaders of several different communities said they think development around train stations, which could include construction of offices and housing developments, could strengthen the economy and vitality of local neighborhoods.

Members of the Baldwin Civic Association, led by their 19-year-old president, David Viana, said they believe the area needs revitalization and have started a Facebook page to promote the idea. Representatives of the 130-member group told county planners that there are areas in the hamlet that are physically suitable for development, and they would like to receive funding to move forward with projects.

Karen Montalbano, the civic group’s business committee chairwoman, said members of the group see a need for improvement to keep people interested in living in a diverse community like Baldwin, rather than moving to larger surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re kind of lost between two villages,” she said. “We’d love to see things that aren’t offered elsewhere to make Baldwin a destination.”

David Sabatino, president of Envision Valley Stream, said he looks forward to telling the study partners more about why his area is ideal for transit-oriented development on Dec. 6.

Sabatino, who said he has been following this project for a long time, said Valley Stream already has a bustling downtown to expand upon. He said he would like to see more foot traffic around the train station and apartments to attract people to the community, adding that he believes development around the train station could make that happen.

“We’re really looking for this type of development in Valley Stream,” he said. “This is the direction we need to move in for the future.”

Other civic leaders presented ideas to planners that they felt would affect numerous communities rather than their own specifically.

Berta Weinstein, vice president of the South Merrick Community Civic Association, said she was unsure whether developers would be interested in coming to Merrick because of the lack of affordable property in the area. But she said would like to see a pedestrian over- or underpass at the train station so people would not have to cross Sunrise Highway to get from the station to the residential neighborhoods and business districts to the south.

“Sunrise Highway is a six-lane speedway,” she said. “If you present a safety issue across an entire line, correcting this could be beneficial to many communities and not just the three that you pick.”

Suggestions for a Sunrise Highway walkway and other projects were taken at the focus group meetings, and the civic leaders also answered written survey questions. The study partners will put together all of the information they have been gathering about each community into a report before three are selected and phase two begins.