Monday, April 16, 2007

Zoning Out Suburban Futures

I'd been waiting for a nasty day when a lot of people might be trapped indoors to post this one. Today looks like that day!

A LI developer's take, the people's reply and what Islanders think of Brooklyn and Queens:

Zoning Out the Future

By VINCE POLIMENI
Published: March 18, 2007, NY Times

THE developer Charles Wang has withdrawn an innovative proposal that would have brought housing, retail, hotel and office space to Plainview. One could have easily found a compromise that would have adjusted the density envisioned by the proposal, but protesters instead quashed it altogether. Sensing no leadership from John Venditto, Oyster Bay supervisor, Mr. Wang withdrew the application and will wind up submitting the ho-hum plan for houses and offices that zoning law will allow. (You mean they have to abide by the zoning law? That's outrageous!)

In Great Neck, meanwhile, a developer wants to build luxury apartments, but seeks to set aside some 20 percent of the units for young firefighters who volunteer in the village fire department. If neighborhood criticism hobbles this effort, the developer will build what is allowed under the current zoning or sell his land to a church or synagogue. (Oh, the horror!)

In Syosset, a 10-year dispute between a developer and civic association members is still in court because the Town of Oyster Bay refuses to approve a compromise version of a mall featuring Neiman Marcus. The proposed mall would be put on an industrial site, surrounded by two highway department depots, an animal shelter and the Long Island Expressway. (Maybe Syosset realizes that they should be trying to attract new industry in order to maintain an industrial base.)

The list of failed or pending development on Long Island goes on.

The problem is that across the region, elected officials have willingly abdicated their zoning authority to civic groups that bitterly complain about property taxes while blocking proposals that would actually ease the burden borne by homeowners. (Elected officials are supposed to represent the will of the people, not actively work against their interests.)

Had these reactionary not-in-my-backyard forces been as dominant in the years just after World War II, most Long Islanders would still be living in cramped apartments in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. (There was a lot more room back in the 1940s, housing was needed and farms no longer were.)

Sadly, few municipal leaders today have the political will or the governmental vision to embrace a new generation of progressive development. The obvious solution would be to recast the Long Island Regional Planning Board, which has a minimal role, into an agency that has the authority to supersede zoning laws in local towns and the Island's two cities. Having produced three huge master planning reports in the last 30 years pertaining to Long Island's land use, the board understands, as few others do, the strategic role of ''smart growth'' in creating a vibrant, strong and attractive region. It would take a political earthquake in Albany to give the board such powers, but crushing property taxes, combined with a strong governor, could create the crucible for such change. (More government oversight - that's what LI needs!)

What is lost in the hostile assault on new ideas is that Long Island is changing regardless of zoning delays. It has become so expensive to live here that the next generation of Long Islanders isn't just leaving, it's fleeing. Why? Because there's no affordable housing. (Because people from NYC are migrating east - see New York Times article in New York Wired link below.) The region continues to be dismissive of efforts to reinvent obsolete property like the old Cerro Wire factory in Syosset and the Kings Park Psychiatric Center in Smithtown.

But the biggest challenge is now before all of us. What do we do with tired, obsolete properties surrounding the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum? After a spirited competition that included me, Edward Blumenfeld and Jan Burman, Scott Rechler and Mr. Wang were declared the winners. Given the scope of their plan, which includes recreational, retail, office and residential space, they have a long road ahead of them. I hope Mr. Wang's experience in Plainview doesn't make them gun-shy.

Hempstead Town officials will find themselves facing the same historic crossroads as their forefathers did in 1947, when Levittown was approved. Can they play the role of visionaries intent on remaking Mitchel Field air base into an accessible, dynamic and economically potent community? Or will they abdicate and allow the future to come to them in whatever form it wishes to take?

What we need are master builders like Robert Moses, who understood how to dream big and build bigger. If the Town of Hempstead fails to deliver the future, we can only hope that a profound change in how we approve Long Island development proposals is not far behind.

Vince Polimeni, a former president of the Association for a Better Long Island, is the head of a development firm.

As Our Open Space Gets Gobbled Up
Published: March 25, 2007, NY Times

To the Editor:

Re ''Zoning Out the Future'' (Op-Ed, March 17): Vince Polimeni and his fellow developers pitch their ideas in ways that try to convince the rest of us that their primary goal is altruistic -- that the continued construction of amusement parks and strip malls is really in the public interest. Sorry, but we're not buying it.

We ''regular folks'' would like to live in a peaceful, quiet environment where we can still enjoy the things that make Long Island a great place to live -- open space, clean water and fresh air.

We've watched the gobbling up of more and more of our open space. Enough is enough. We'd like to see alternative proposals that preserve our open space.

JOHN ESPOSITO
Huntington

To the Editor:

Development that addresses the needs for affordable middle-class housing, appropriate commercial space and preserved open, public spaces is critical to Long Island. But Charles B. Wang's plan for Plainview was clearly not that. Vince Polimeni bemoans that protesters ''quashed it altogether.''

A cross-representation of the community came out to voice their concerns about a developer who was proposing high-end condominiums and rentals, a hotel, a conference center, retail spaces, office space and enclosed private land that would have benefited the few, not the many. The plan had just a handful of lowcost ''next generation'' housing and housing for the elderly.

The people of Nassau County last November overwhelmingly approved a $100 million bond referendum to preserve open spaces. If Mr. Wang's plan had truly addressed the needs of the ''next generation,'' struggling elderly citizens and this commitment to preserved public open space, I believe there would have been a very different outcome.

CAROLINE BOCK

Old Bethpage Developers and Oyster Bay
Published: April 1, 2007, NY Times

To the Editor:

In “Zoning Out the Future” (Op-Ed, March 18), Vince Polimeni, a developer, chastises Oyster Bay for not giving in to a plan to turn 166 acres into dense housing that is euphemistically called “smart growth.”

Mr. Polimeni says that Oyster Bay’s supervisor, John Venditto, has “no leadership” in this area. Mr. Venditto is doing his job representing the people who elected him and want to keep Oyster Bay the way it is, not giving in to the grandiose plans of a billionaire who would stand to profit from this construction.

Mr. Polimeni also decries the blocking by the Town of Oyster Bay of the development of a new mall. Everyone knows that Long Island does not have enough malls.

I wonder: were the developers planning on living in the middle of this “smart growth” that would be so “good” for Oyster Bay? It appears developers will not be happy until Nassau and Suffolk resemble Queens and Brooklyn.

Robert F. LaPorta
Dix Hills

And now, an elected official who could teach a thing or two to Billionaire Bloomberg:

A Victory on Main Street
Published: April 1, 2007, NY Times

The village of Greenport has come up with an intriguing model for creating affordable housing, one that seeks to level the village’s badly tilted real estate playing field back in favor of regular working people. There is a dwindling number of those in Greenport, whose population of wealthy summer residents has grown significantly in recent years.

The idea came as part of a settlement of a long-running dispute over two acres of waterfront property that, in the ordinary Long Island scheme of things, would have been destined — or doomed, depending on your perspective and tax bracket — to become luxury housing for the village’s increasingly Manhattan-based demographic.

The agreement was brokered by Mayor David Kapell, who says he is all for economic growth in his village but hates the thought of housing prices being skewed so high by rich outsiders that they force out people who live and work in Greenport year-round — those with Main Street, not Wall Street, incomes.

Under the plan, the property, an old oyster-packing operation, would be redeveloped for both commercial and residential use. There would be one shop repairing and selling yachts, and another freezing and packing scallops. There would be a dozen 1,500-square-foot apartments sold at market — i.e., luxury — rates. And then there would be five little one-bedrooms, each 650 square feet, sold for $175,000, only to residents who live or work in Greenport full time. The residency requirement would apply to all future sales and units could not be combined into bigger ones, so — in theory, anyway — they would always be too small for the lofty appetites of hedge-fund managers, but just right for young teachers, firefighters or retirees.

Mr. Kapell, who has been in the real estate business for decades, thinks his plan would let the free market do its thing, but tweak it just enough to help the average Greenporter. This sort of idea could and should take hold across Long Island, if only communities could overcome their resistance to higher-density housing and accept the idea of giving a leg up to the dreams of ordinary Long Islanders.

A postscript: Greenport’s tiny experiment in resisting the gentrification juggernaut is further evidence of the political distinctiveness, civil ingenuity and creative enthusiasm of Mayor Kapell, who is leaving office next month after 28 years in public life, 13 as mayor. Mr. Kapell has long been a refreshing oddity in a political landscape where the knee-jerk response to new challenges ranges from “You can’t do that” to “Not in my backyard” to the all-purpose “No.”

Mr. Kapell is the original “Yes, in my backyard” politician. He is committed to preserving Greenport’s identity as a working harbor town, not a fake Ye Olde Village smelling of potpourri. He has worked aggressively to welcome new things — a park, a carousel, an ice rink, a power plant, community patrols in red berets, affordable housing, even Latino immigrants — and his village, once a dumpy, corrupt East End dead end, has thrived for it.

Wired New York has more on the Long Island housing situation: Wired New York Forum

And here's a problem being had in New Jersey: In Success of ‘Smart Growth,’ New Jersey Town Feels Strain

“Washington Township did everything right for smart growth, but families want to live there so bad, their numbers have gone through the roof...” Now Mayor David Fried is considering a drastic remedy: using eminent domain to seize undeveloped tracts and prevent developers from building hundreds of more homes, lest more young families move in.

“The last thing you want to do is turn kids into liabilities,” Mr. Fried said. “But we were slated for another 500 homes, and if we did that, it would be catastrophic because I can’t even handle the kids we have already.”


Photo from NY Times

1 comment:

Julie said...

It looks as though the entire region is plagued with some sort of overdevelopment. Time to expand the free birth control to other counties!