The following was published on LIBN's Young Island: It was very exciting to read that the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRP...
Linked below is a copy of Water Worries, the report issued in June by environmentalists in response to the draft Suffolk County Comprehensiv...
The relationships that both Nassau and Suffolk Counties have in regards to the stewardship of waters that both surround and provide drinking...
The following was written for the Community Development Corporation's annual report to NeighborWorks America. It presents a good snapsh...
The following was published by Long Island Business News on May 1st, 2013: I’ve been hearing a lot about Connect Long Island , County Ex...
Friday, October 22, 2010
As seen on Three Village Patch on October 21st, 2010
When President Stanley came into his leadership position at Stony Brook University, he decided to jump head first into the fight to build a hotel on campus. The battle for an on-campus hotel has been raging since 1986, with an amended proposal in 1989 and eventual stagnation by 1994. Late last year, the battle was resurrected once again. The current proposal places the hotel adjacent to the Ashley Schiff Preserve near the main entrance to the campus. While the legal battle is over lease agreements and the public/private relationship, the more important planning implications of this project should take precedence in the project’s discussion.
Stony Brook University’s growth should be encouraged, and it would be ridiculous to deny them the right to expand. Their 640 acre campus houses over 30,000 people, and contributes roughly $4 billion to the economy. Those figures are staggering, especially considering the opposition the university receives from the surrounding communities over every move it makes. However, when it comes to the hotel, the university has made poor decisions and the plan’s opponents are actually making sense.
The proposal has always been severely flawed, from its original form through its current incarnation. Furthermore, the university has been needlessly stubborn in considering alternatives. The hotel itself is not necessarily the problem, but its location is a very poor choice for the area. The university’s administration claims that the hotel site can be for visitors of the hospital, but the proposed hotel site is almost a mile away, with the need to cross Nicholls Road to even access the hospital. The main entrance to the university faces Nicholls Road, a route that serves as a primary north/south highway for not only the Setauket/Stony Brook area, but all of Suffolk County. Nicholls does not have any commercial frontage, nor should it. Its primary purpose is not for local stops but express service in each direction. A hotel on the road is a conflict of land uses.
The most frustrating thing in this whole ordeal is the fact that there is ample acreage to build somewhere else, and these sites are a much better fit for both the community and university. And according to a 2009 Newsday article, the opponents to the plan do not oppose building a hotel in another location “elsewhere on campus.”
In planning, consideration of alternatives is key to designing development that works. The insistence by the administration for constructing the hotel on their proposed site is causing unnecessary grief for an administration already grappling with complex issues concerning SUNY Southhampton. President Stanley and SUNY are their own worst enemy.
The author has worked with the New York City Mayor's Office of Capital Project Development and studied planning with Dr. Lee Koppelman. He earned his B.A. from Fordham University in political science and urban studies and master's in Public Policy from Stony Brook University. He has written and presented various papers on planning issues across Long Island, and has been published in various Suffolk County newspapers and websites. He lives in Setauket.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
As seen on Port Jefferson Patch.com October 14th, 2010:
The Village of Port Jefferson is currently drafting a comprehensive plan for the area, with the goal to reduce congestion, control areas of growth and improve quality of life. However, the problem is that three plans have already been drafted by governmental and professional planning agencies. There is substantial overlap between what this fourth plan is trying to accomplish and what the past three plans have already done. These plans originate from the 1960s, with most aspects of the plans going unimplemented, resulting in haphazard improvements and lackluster results. Essentially, the Village picked and chose which aspects of the plans were convenient for them to implement. For the fourth plan to be successful, it is very important for the Village to avoid the pitfalls of past failures, and truly examine why these three sound and professional plans went mostly unused.
While it may be unnecessary for the fourth plan to be drafted, the Village is too far along, and has spent too much money to turn back. For any comprehensive plan to be successful, there must be true public participation, spanning all age groups and demographics, from the plans inception to implementation. There must be sound data-backed findings and community needs identified, as well as professional methodology employed in the research supporting the plan. The plan being conducted by the Village fails to meet any of these criteria. The meetings I have attended were nearly empty, with the same people showing up time and time again. The survey sent out by the Village was unprofessional at best in both structure and content. Most importantly, I have reservations at allowing a politically entrenched engineering firm to conduct a planning study, when there are various professional governmental agencies more than able to do the task at hand.
Much of Port Jefferson’s physical space is already built out, but there is potential for growth. The plan should focus on the redevelopment of Upper Port. Executed wisely, this area can be the anchor of an economic rebirth. According to a 2001 Suffolk County Planning Department study, “There seems to be substantial usage of the railroad for transportation to work in multi-unit housing complexes located near train stations.” With Transit Oriented Development (or TOD) being the “in” concept right now, the Village is susceptible to the whims of ideological planning. Much of the time, TODs call for more density without allocating open space for preservation. Port Jefferson must find a good balance between the conflicting forces of the residents wants, the community needs and what the local infrastructure and environment can handle. In the past, Port Jefferson has been its own worst enemy. If the fourth plan is to proceed, let it be a progressive and most importantly, a document that can actually be implemented.
The author has worked with the New York City Mayor's Office of Capital Project Development and studied planning with Lee Koppelman. He earned his B.A. from Fordham University in political science and urban studies and master's in Public Policy from Stony Brook University. He has written and presented various papers on planning issues across Long Island, and has been published in various Suffolk County newspapers. He lives in Setauket.
Friday, October 8, 2010
As published in the October 7th Edition of North Shore Newspapers:
The history of the much loathed Route 347 is both fascinating and near tragic. Once slated as a limited access route to serve Brookhaven as a diagonal Southwest/ Northeast route, the road became entrenched with encroaching development that strangled any possibility of increasingly needed improvement being made since the 1960s. Drive on 347 between Nicholls Road and Jericho Turnpike for a quick planning lesson entitled “What not to do on a Primary Arterial Road”. The end result was a corridor that everybody hated, but nobody had the political will to actually implement a solution. The most frustrating part of the 347 saga is what could’ve been. Soon however, all of that is going to change.
Route 347 is a state route, thus the road is the State’s domain. Say what you want about the state, but the New York State Department of Transportation has been very busy for the last twelve years formulating how exactly they can approach this developmental quagmire that local government and shortsighted private developers got themselves, and everybody else into. This week construction is starting on the section of 347 from Veterans Highway (454) to Route 111, and what is promised is, as the NYS DOT calls it, a “Suburban Greenway” with in sync traffic signals, more transit access points, streetscape improvements, a reduced speed limit of 45 miles per hour and, maybe more importantly, additional lanes in each direction. The reduced speed limit will be balanced out by increased traffic flow. Eventually the improvements will continue along the whole beleaguered corridor, in different phases of the project, terminating in Port Jefferson Station.
What is interesting is that the DOT seems to be downplaying the biggest improvements along the route, as is the media reporting on the changes. The eventual elimination of on the ground, grade crossings at 347 and Nicholls Road, as well as 347and Jericho Turnpike (NYS 25) are long needed, and crucial to improving traffic flow on all of these routes, yet they are mentioned in passing. At these interchanges, the DOT is proposing to build overpasses similar to the crossing at Nicholls and Middle Country Road in Centereach. The new interchanges may be further down the pipeline, but considering the history of the road, they are a huge accomplishment on the part of the DOT.
Anything that happens on 347 is an improvement, but from a planning standpoint is it enough? Well, no, because 347 needed these improvements ten years ago. It is sad that it took this long for any progress to be made on a road whose flanking development spiraled out of control, but it is everyone who is at fault. When development is to be stopped, NIMBY is the go-to weapon that communities use, but in reality, the story of 347 is much more complicated than that. It was not NIMBY that created 347’s traffic nightmares, but was the unrestricted development along the route. Each year more and more businesses had curb cuts and access to the road, essentially creating a new intersection. Whenever future development is proposed along the route, we should all look to the true traffic impacts of say, adding three big box stores or a medical office park right off of the corridor
The problem with 347 is so bad, and so prolonged, that regardless of academic ponderings of what could’ve or should’ve been, that the DOT is finally doing something. After many public outreach meetings and a plan that was formulated a in response to the road’s current usage, we are now presented with an improvement. In the past, 347 as a limited access, free flowing highway was (and still may be) necessary, but today it just cannot happen, so they did what they could: envisioned a 347 that was both a local and express road. In the following years, we will all be inconvenienced by the delays caused by construction, but as you sit and wait, remember just how bad the conditions on 347 were, and how much they are going to improve if we are all patient and let the DOT do it’s much needed work.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
This first post summarizes what this blog is about. It was an editorial piece published across Suffolk County on June 10th, 2010.
Long Islanders are being sold a false bill of goods. We are being promised by each village, town and county “comprehensive” plans that aim to transform suburbia into something that is workable and sustainable. In reality, these proposed plans are fundamentally flawed and shortsighted. The planning process—something that unfortunately many residents and stakeholders don’t understand—should include the public, and always be based upon the best available demographic and scientific data.
The drafting of a comprehensive plan shouldn’t be taken lightly, yet policymakers and local stakeholders have spent enormous sums of public money on plans that haven’t followed the planning process. The resulting “comprehensive plans,” which tout “smart growth,” are more like ideological exercises than true planning endeavors. Problems arise when ideology and rhetoric mix with planning. The end result is that these expensive exercises end up on shelves collecting dust. Furthermore, the public is jaded when it comes to redeveloping Long Island, and with reason: change is often championed in unrealistic ways.
What exactly is “smart growth”? In 2001, Anthony Downs explored this question in the planning journal Foresight: “Throughout the United States, the term ‘smart growth’ is being adopted by groups trying to change what they regard as the undesirable impacts of ‘suburban sprawl.’ Under the umbrella of this appealing term, groups with very different goals are trying to create the appearance of a united front. But in reality, that umbrella is being pulled apart—to the detriment of public policy and the public itself.” There is no consensus for what “smart” growth is, and as a result, Long Islanders are presented unfeasible plans.
The idea of revitalizing Long Island’s downtowns is indeed attractive, but these plans promote flawed ideas. For example, despite the slick presentations of non-profits, the amount of vacant land on Long Island is deceiving. The Regional Plan Association, which is based in Manhattan, and whose planning scope is NYC-centric (“NYC and its environs”), and the Long Island Index both state there is roughly 8,300 acres of “vacant” land available for redevelopment.
Of these 8,300 acres, 52% is land for parking, 22% is unprotected open space, and 26% is “other” vacant land. It must be understood that the 52% (or about 4,316 acres) used for parking is space that shouldn’t be redeveloped. In many areas, parking is a premium asset, especially in the built-to-capacity villages. Each space is worth roughly $150,000 to local businesses, and it’s doubtful commercial land owners will want to compete with residents for these valuable spaces.
There are environmental facts that limit our island’s potential growth, especially our sole-source aquifer. In most cases, “mixed-use” is a euphemism for increased density, which would be detrimental to our limited water supply. Without transferring development rights from one parcel to another, the end result is higher density sprawl. These massive mixed-use proposals are at densities that fit Manhattan, not Suffolk or Nassau. Nassau has reached its carrying capacity for growth because of our limited water supply. It is good the Lighthouse at the Hempstead Hub wasn’t approved: the aquifer couldn’t handle the growth that development would bring. In Suffolk, the density of the proposed Heartland Town Square exceeds that of the Lighthouse, and the surrounding communities are almost oblivious. It is not mixed-use or clustered growth that is the enemy here, but the way the term “mixed-use” is being twisted and employed.
Other downtowns seek revitalization and growth, but their collective approach is haphazard. It is one thing to draft a comprehensive plan, but it is another to draft a plan that is smart, practical and feasible. The hiring of outside consultants that don’t understand the nuance of Long Island’s politics and stakeholders result in the shelved plans mentioned above. It is frustrating to witness, and as Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island’s veteran master planner has said countless times, “They don’t have the foggiest idea!” He’s right. We, as Long Islanders, deserve better.