At the Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington (RFMBPW) annual meeting, County Executive Thomas Suozzi expressed support for the concept of a "Clean Green" zone on Port Washington's Main Street. He said that, if this initiative is successful, Port Washington can have what Suozzi described as a "cool" downtown. He described a "cool downtown" as "a place where commercial areas are located near transportation centers and where housing, mixed-use structures and local amenities can be sited to support walkable communities." They also include places of ideas, culture and education.
Suozzi went on to say, "People move to places based on the quality of life. Young people are moving to Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan because they want that quality of life." He added, "Young people used to live on Long Island. Now, even if they could afford it, they're not going to buy a house in Levittown or Port Washington." Add to that the fact that there is a lack of affordable housing and a scarcity of rental housing and the problem of attracting and/or keeping young people on Long Island is exacerbated.
Suozzi said that in thinking about the whole concept of suburbia, there are parts that are "great." They include, he said, "good schools, waterfront, and low crime." "But," he added," "there are four major problems: property taxes are too high; young people are not moving here; there is too much traffic; and we have pockets of poverty that have been ignored for generations." Suozzi went on to point out that Nassau County has stopped growing, in part because we don't want any more traffic and are reluctant to use up what little open space is left in Nassau County. However, the downside of growth leveling off is that tax revenues are dependent primarily on property taxes; therefore tax revenues stay stagnant or decrease.
Suozzi said, "I am suggesting a new paradigm. It is not post-suburban and it is not new urban. I call it the 'New Suburbia.'" In this paradigm, he said, "We would keep all the stuff that we like about suburbia and correct what we don't." Specific things that Suozzi suggested were high-tech growth, promotion of entertainment and tourism, and building more housing in our downtowns that young people and senior citizens can afford. He added, "I am not here to convince you. The county does not have control over zoning."
Other initiatives that Suozzi proposed are keeping what open space we have, enhancing the infrastructure, helping public school districts in need, and developing a train system to get from New York City to the [Nassau] Coliseum. Suozzi suggested areas in which we want to grow would include the "hub," the brownfields that he said are now "doing nothing," in minority communities, and in "cool downtowns" that would include multi-story buildings where residents can walk and take the train.
Returning to the subject of Port Washington, Suozzi commented that this community has "great potential" to become a "cool downtown." He pointed out that Main Street goes right through the main traffic corridor. He concluded, "I am encouraging you to build housing around your downtown if you want children and grandchildren to move back here. It will also help with traffic."
Dan Donatelli, RFMBPW's co-president, Mindy Germain, executive director, and Doug Wood and other board members explained the concept of the "Clean Green" Zone, which goes from Port Washington Boulevard to Mackey Avenue on Main Street. (If the initiative is successful, it most likely will be expanded to other parts of the Port Washington commercial district.) Wood said, "It is not just about litter. It is about creating a mutual sense of responsibility about community." In addition to being concerned literally about keeping the area clean, there will also be efforts to improve the esthetics, and increasing recycling. Re the latter, Wood said, "Our goal is 100 percent."
The "Clean Green Zone" initiative involves a number of Port Washington organizations, each of which had representatives at the meeting who spoke briefly to pledge their support and to describe their role. The groups include the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), the Town of North Hempstead (TONH), the Port Washington Garbage District, the Port Washington Police Department, and the Long Island Rail Road. Warren Schein, the chamber president said, "Without a partnership, this couldn't happen, but with all these groups getting together, it will be successful."
Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Councilmember Fred Pollack pledged wholehearted support from the TONH. Kaiman said, "This is about people stepping up. We had the 'green team' effort, but it didn't work out as well as we had hoped because it needed everyone to step up to the plate." He added, "I will do whatever is necessary to ensure a clean, safe environment. Pollack commented, "This is a really exciting and different project. What makes it different is that everyone is saying, 'We are in this together.'" He added, "This is a community effort...to make downtown an attractive, exciting place for those who live here and for those who visit."
Among the specific proposals described at the meeting: "prettifying" vacant storefronts with blowups of photos of old Port Washington; a streetscape improvement project with, among other things, new plants and lighting; encouraging business owners to comply with garbage regulations and, if necessary, enforcing those regulations; adding litter baskets; an education program to discourage litter and increase recycling; the possibility of new facades, plazas, and open spaces; a change in traffic patterns; beautification of the LIRR station; and the possibility of an architectural review board.
Germain summed up by saying, "Everyone wants a cleaner, greener and more beautiful Main Street, and the beauty of this program is that everyone has a hand in creating it."