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NCPC Holds Second Public Hearing on Nassau County Master Plan

Commission Hears Comments About

Cerro Wire Site, The Future of LIRR

The Nassau County Planning Commission wants the development of the Cerro Wire property in Syosset included in the Nassau County Master Plan; however, they aren’t backing any particular vision for the site, explained chairman Jeffrey Greenfield at the Feb. 3 public hearing on the plan, the second such hearing to be held. After responding favorably to Taubman representative Mitchell Pally’s request for the site to be included in the plan at the first public hearing, held Nov. 18, 2010, Greenfield clarified that at that time, he was expressing his approval of the site itself being included in the plan in some fashion, not Taubman’s (or anyone else’s) particular goals for the 39-acre property.

“I clearly want to state on the record that it was never my intent to endorse any one project. The intent of my comments was to say that the site that’s open to development should be included in some way in the master plan, and that ‘some way,’ I don’t think any of us know what that is,” said Greenfield.

Howard Avrutine, an attorney representing the Birchwood Civic Association, the Birchwood Park at Syosset Homeowner’s Association, and the Syosset Groves Civic Association, noted that his clients would be pleased with this clarification, but stated that he still wanted the opportunity to appraise the commission of the Cerro Wire Coalition’s plan for the site, since representatives of the Taubman company had already taken the opportunity to do so regarding their plan for a mall.

“These are not ‘NIMBY’s or “Not in My Backyard” people,” said Avrutine of the community opposition to Taubman’s mall project. “This property is ripe for development; the community recognizes that.” Avrutine went on to say that since 2006, the community has been working toward a smart growth, self-contained project for the site that would not severely impact traffic in the community the way that a mall would.

Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition, which has been fighting Taubman’s mall proposal for the past 15 years, also expressed the community’s desire to see the site developed. “I’m asking that notation be put in this wonderful master plan that this crown jewel of Nassau County, of 39 acres, should be developed-but intelligent growth is what’s important,” said Fabricant. He shared some details of the Cerro Wire Coalition’s proposal, which includes housing (next generation and senior), a small piece of retail space, and an upscale Marriot hotel.

Economics professor Martin R. Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute, further supported Avrutine and Fabricant’s position. “We feel that at the end of the day, the smart-growth alternative development plan- as proposed by the community- will render more permanent economic impact in the region: more sales tax, more property taxes, more economic activity- in which we all understand the county is in desperate need,” Cantor said.

After all of the speakers who had signed up to speak were finished, Commissioner Neal Lewis noted that, in his personal opinion, the Cerro Wire Coalition’s plan for the site was consistent with the stated goals of the master plan. He also noted that the perception that building projects take forever to approve on Long Island was often blamed on the “Not in My Backyard” faction, but the flip side of the issue is that there are developers who do not listen to elected officials and the community, he said.

“I do really believe that it should be acknowledged that if you look at our master plan it calls for more of the kinds of things that the community around Cerro Wire is calling for in terms of smart growth, projects that might include some apartments, which are desperately needed….” said Lewis.

In addition to the ongoing discussion of the future of the large parcel of land located right next to the LIRR tracks, LIRR Chief Planning Officer Elisa Picca provided the commission with information about how the railroad is taking the goals of the master plan into account. Picca stated that she was representing Helena Williams, president of LIRR.

Picca acknowledged that while LIRR provides a large amount of service to residents who commute to jobs in Manhattan, the reverse commute, as well as inter-Island commuting, is a different story- something noted in the master plan. “Although reverse-peak ridership has increased 11 percent over the past decade, to approximately 9,000 reverse-peak commuters in 2009, providing a high level of intra-Island and reverse-peak service to Nassau and Suffolk counties is a major challenge for the railroad,” said Picca.

She went on to say that the limitations of reverse commuting hurt Nassau County’s attractiveness to businesses, since business owners could not tap into New York City’s young, educated talent pool. To rectify this, Picca detailed some of the LIRR’s plans for the future, which include increasing track capacity on main lines, both by adding a double track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma and adding a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, which should allow for more intra-Island travel. Picca also discussed some shorter-term infrastructure improvements, which she said would increase utilization of tracks and platforms while also improving drainage.

She also discussed the importance of the $7.3 billion East Side Access Project, LIRR’s first major expansion project in over a century, which aims to bring LIRR service directly into Grand Central Station.

Also, according to Picca, approximately 48 percent of the funds in the LIRR’s 2010-2014 capital budget will go to outside contractors, a boon to local businesses. However, she did note that $1.5 billion out of the approximately $2.5 billion capital budget remains unfunded.

Several others came to the microphone to address the commission, including Richard Libbey of Atlantic Beach, who expressed his concern that there was nothing in the master plan about reducing the size of government. In response, Lewis said he did not believe that the size of government was a topic that the organization’s charter stated should be included in the master plan. Libbey then went back up to the microphone and stated that Nassau County’s charter calls for ‘quality of life,’ and that the burden of too much government ruins the quality of life.

While there will be no more public hearings on the master plan, Greenfield said that the commission will be discussing the plan further at the work session of the next meeting. The next scheduled meeting of the commission is Thursday, Feb. 17; the work session begins at 9 a.m.