By Danny Schrafel
Ask longtime observers on the smart-growth beat about the mood in the air when it comes to a push for community-centered, mixed-use development, and you’ll probably hear that things are looking pretty bright.
“We’re not talking so much about what is not happening and why it is not happening,” said Newsday columnist Joye Brown, who moderated a breakfast panel at the Vision Long Island’s Smart Growth Summit at the Melville Marriott Friday. “Have we actually turned the corner in recognizing what’s necessary for the island to thrive in this century?”
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, wants to hear more of that.
“There’s so much negativity – ‘Things aren’t happening, let’s wring our hands, let’s whine, let’s complain.’ Enough. Enough, folks,” he said. “This is a pet peeve of mine. There are so many good things happening.”
It hasn’t necessarily become easier to move forward, Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said, but there has been progress – and that means new challenges. Take the recent push to add apartments over retail-commercial uses in Huntington village, for example.
“Ten years ago, this was taboo. Now, it’s pretty well accepted,” he said. “But it brings new challenges, such as the challenge of parking… with more apartments coming, the challenge gets greater.”
“There is a path forward for remaking suburbia,” added Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. “We’re in the process of doing that here.”
Leveraging existing assets like the Mineola train station hub has resulted in nearly 900 rental units being in the surrounding Nassau County village, Mayor Scott Strauss said. Another 900 are going up in Huntington township, Petrone added.
“We’ve seen development in the village of Mineola like we’re never seen before,” Strauss said, adding that once shovels were in the ground for the first complex, public opposition to subsequent projects lessened.
But one of the perennial roadblocks – sewers, or the lack thereof – however, remained in the spotlight of the panel of town supervisors, council members and village mayors.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he would make advocacy for infrastructure investments a top priority in the New Year. Long Island, he said, is a great place to live now, but “if you don’t revitalize our infrastructure, it won’t be such a great place for the next generation.”
“Our highways, our infrastructure are vital to us,” he said.
The federal response to Superstorm Sandy, he added, gave federal lawmakers an opportunity to reform FEMA protocols, allowing reconstruction of facilities that made them better and more resilient. Previously, Schumer said, FEMA protocols only allowed rebuilding what had been destroyed.
More efficient cars, he added, has caused some of the infrastructure funding problem; because improvements are funded in part by gasoline taxes, more efficient cars mean fewer dollars for that account. He’s calling for reforms in a new transportation bill to increase funding, and pledged that “places like Long Island would get their fair share,” as well as more TIGER grants for infrastructure.
“I think you would agree investing in infrastructure is a fundamental function of government… The federal government’s been involved in infrastructure since 1820,” he said, citing the example of Senator Henry Clay, a Whig from Kentucky, leading the charge to build roads across the Appalachian Mountains.
“Ever since then, there’s sort of been consensus,” he said, noting that later, President Dwight Eisenhower financed major infrastructure projects through construction of the interstate highway system.
Revitalization efforts, such as those in Huntington Station, rely on strong infrastructure, Petrone said. He added that he is working with Suffolk County to achieve a sewer connection to Huntington Station from the area of the Walt Whitman Shops.
“That’s essential for economic development,” he said.