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Nassau County Planning Commission Holds Public Hearing on Master Plan

Taubman Corporation Asks for Recognition for

Syosset Mall Project, Commissioners Agree

With the county’s fiscal woes dominating the headlines, it’s hard to be optimistic about Nassau’s future. However, the tone of the Nassau County Planning Commission Public Hearing on the draft of the 2010 Master Plan, which makes policy recommendations to attempt to guide the county towards economic growth and prosperity, was hopeful. In fact, most of the speakers at the Thursday, Nov. 18 hearing spoke in praise of the plan, with few, if any, caveats.

While ostensibly a five-year plan, the Master Plan offers suggestions for the county through 2030. One theme that runs through the entire plan is Nassau’s great need for affordable housing; in the five-chapter plan, only chapter 4, Infrastructure, does not prominently feature the need for the creation of new residential units to suit the paradigm shift in Nassau’s population. The single family home, the dominant form of housing in the county that was once desired for traditional nuclear families with 2.3 kids and a dog, is now too big and too expensive for seniors, a large and growing portion of Nassau’s population. It’s also not feasible for young people, who currently struggle to find affordable rentals- if they stay in the county at all.

The plan states that a key aspect of turning the desire for affordable housing into reality will be changing the zoning of many areas to accommodate mixed-use development, leading to more robust downtown areas. More densely populated downtowns will allow more people to walk to work and shopping, which complements the goal of reducing auto traffic and congestion, another item noted in the plan. Many aspects of the plan dovetail in this manner.

However, the plan notes that Nassau County cannot change zoning on its own; it can only make policy recommendations, in the hopes that the towns and cities of the county will make changes in accordance with these recommendations- although there is a section of the plan that outlines, specifically, what Nassau County can “do for itself.” These include establishing a venture capital fund devoted to seeding new high technology companies, and adopting an affordable housing/next generation/workforce housing goal for the county.

In addition, the plan calls for the redevelopment of brownfields, which is of great interest to the Taubman Company, who have been trying to turn the vacant, 39-acre Cerro Wire property in Syosset into an upscale mall for well over a decade.

“Two of the policies in the report- revitalizing under-utilized commercial properties and redeveloping brownfields- are specifically met by the redevelopment of the Cerro Wire property with a Taubman mall,” said Mitchell Pally of Weber Law Group, which represents Taubman.

“The Taubman Company is committed to building a first-class mall on the old Cerro Wire property, not only because it is good business, but because it meets all of the criteria of the Master Plan and will provide millions of dollars of real property and sales tax revenues, and thousands of union jobs to Nassau County,” said Pally emphatically. He went on to say that with the approvals that have already been received, groundbreaking on the project could occur in the spring of 2011 – although those familiar with the history of staunch community opposition to the mall may find that difficult to believe.

Pally asked that the project be added to the list of the largest proposed redevelopment projects in the county, which is located in appendix A of the Master Plan. Jeffrey Greenfield, chairman, agreed that the project should be added to the list. “Let’s get something in there for him, because he’s absolutely right: it’s a significant project within this county, and someday it’ll get out of the courts and become a reality,” said Greenfield.

Meanwhile, others gave the project a general seal of approval. “The emphasis on economic growth, rental and workforce housing options, connecting the economy growth with expanding and funding infrastructure, and clearly a premise and priority of land use for transit-served communities and transit-served job centers, are exactly what Long Island, and certainly Nassau County, needs,” said Michael White, executive director of Long Island Regional Planning Council. White went on to say that the action items of the Master Plan complement his organization’s plan, the Long Island 2035 Regional Comprehensive Sustainability Plan.

Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones, a program officer of Long Island Community Foundation, agreed with White’s assessment. “Today, I just wanted to commend Nassau County for its commitment to advancing a sustainable future for our county,” she said. Artineh Havan, a community planner from Sustainable Long Island, expressed similar sentiments.

Mindy Germain, executive director of Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington, expressed approval with the focus on downtown areas, stating that Port Washington is thrilled to pilot Vibrant Downtown Revitalization; Port Washington received what’s named in the plan as a Community Visioning Grant. “While economic times may challenge the pace of our project, Port Washington will not let the county down in terms of turning plans into implimentable projects,” said Germain.

However, some did offer constructive criticism. Patricia Bourne, executive vice president for planning of the Kimmel Foundation (and a former executive commissioner of the Nassau County Planning Commission) suggested that the plan include something on the proper use of social media, noting as a counterexample a recent incident concerning a proposed housing complex in Huntington Station, where anti-development Facebook pages fueled community ire.

“It’s complex to understand social media, but it’s crucial to do so, because so many people get their information now from that type- whether it’s Facebook, or Twitter- rather than getting it from traditional ways of information such as print media and watching television,” she said. Bourne also said that the subject of providing housing for veterans should be given greater emphasis in the plan since, according to her research, about 4 percent of the county population under the age of 65 are veterans.

Also on the subject of housing, Marge Rogatz, a member of the New York State Mortgage Agency, said her agency was concerned about the plight of low-income communities within Nassau, and hoped to have a chance to work with the commission on that issue. Rogatz also serves as president of Community Advocates, Inc. and on the board of Long Island Community Foundation.

The commission will accept written comments on the Master Plan through Dec. 1. Commissioners will then discuss submitted comments as part of the agenda at the next meeting of the Nassau County Planning Commission on Thursday, Dec. 2, and hope to adopt the Master Plan at the following meeting on Thursday, Dec. 16. The Master Plan is available online at www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/Planning/MasterPlan.html.