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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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LI’s Places to Grow

A Regional Plan Association (RPA) report released last week, Places to Grow, outlined a way to reduce the number of cars on Nassau’s congested roadways while at the same time expanding the county’s tax base.

The RPA study’s key recommendation—redevelop for residential use underutilized or vacant parcels within walking distance of Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stations—is a compelling one, although if implemented could create zoning disputes because the RPA believes multifamily dwellings are what’s needed. It also explains the report’s sub-head: An Analysis of the Potential for Transit-Accessible Housing and Jobs in Long Island’s Downtowns and Station Areas.

The RPA argues the best way to stabilize Nassau housing prices is to build more places to live. In addition, property tax burdens are eased when there are more residents to pay them, especially when most of those living in these new apartments (young adults, empty nesters) are unlikely to add to the school district population.

The 10 Nassau downtowns with residential redevelopment potential near a LIRR station, according to the RPA are, in order, from the largest amount of potential acreage for such purposes to lowest: Hempstead, Hicksville, Mineola, Freeport, Rockville Centre, Westbury, Valley Stream, Port Washington, Long Beach, and Baldwin.

“Since 2000, only about 22 percent of all building permits issued on Long Island have been for multifamily units. Our suburban neighbors around the metropolitan area understand the importance of housing options. In the same time period where we issued 22 percent, these regions have issued 37 percent of their permits for multifamily units. That’s almost double,” said Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index, according to the notes accompanying her PowerPoint presentation on the RPA report, which the Rauch Foundation commissioned and funded. “Instead, on Long Island, the houses have gotten bigger: What once were 900 square foot homes on quarter-acre lots have been replaced by 2,500 square foot homes and way larger, on four times as much land.”

Mineola, Freeport and Hicksville were highlighted for meeting most closely all four criteria listed in the RPA’s benchmarking: their respective downtown’s size, the acres of underutilized or vacant property situated downtown, average LIRR ridership, and their existing downtown building uses.

Moreover, Mineola was praised in the RPA analysis for its village board of trustees’ adoption of an ‘overlay district’ in 2007, covering properties nearest the Mineola LIRR station but away from most of the village’s established single-family residential neighborhoods.

“The (overlay) district enables mixed-use or residential development proposals within the (overlay) district to bypass the usual red-tape-burdened permitting process and go straight to the Board of Trustees for approval, providing a significant incentive for developers,” the RPA study states.

The bottom line: In exchange for Mineola’s village board waiving certain zoning restrictions (e.g. limiting the height of some buildings), developers have agreed to make enhancements to the village in the form of streetscape improvements, or the purchase of a new village fire truck, the report explains. In the past three years, four major residential developments have come before the Mineola village board, all within walking distance of the LIRR station, according to Places to Grow.

The full report can be found at www.longislandindex.org.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net