Port Jefferson Station’s future is still blurry, but the vision is beginning to come into focus.
Members of the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department were on hand at a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting July 24 to share a preliminary look and float recommendations for the revitalization of the area of Port Jeff Station between the train tracks and Route 347. Representatives of the department announced, as a result of examining both the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan and the 2014 Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study, which were largely the product of community input in the form of mailed surveys, demand exists to create a walkable, downtown hub with buildings zoned for retail and/or restaurant use on the first floor and residential use on potentially up to a fourth floor.
The announcement also served to lay out a timeline for the next steps in the process, which will require the formation of a citizens advisory committee, the conducting of a blight study and drafting of an actual land use plan to be brought before the town as a final stage, among many others. Completion of the preliminary steps is expected to occur in 2020, at which point the town would need to approve zoning changes necessary to precede shovels entering the ground.
“Patience is not a virtue, it’s a necessity for these kinds of matters,” town planning commissioner Tullio Bertoli said. “We did visioning. This is the implementation of that visioning into a full-blown land-use plan.”
The announced timeline and plans come as several violent crimes have garnered media attention, including a July incident in which a 27-year-old man from Selden was shot to death inside a billiards hall in upper Port, as well as what locals would likely characterize as an increase in delinquent activities perpetrated by the homeless population in the area.
“We want to clean the area up, this is the most efficient way right now to try to clean that area up,” civic association President Sal Pitti said during the meeting.
He and other officials in attendance stressed simply building and developing cannot be expected to alleviate all of the area’s ills.
“There are some issues that cannot be solved by building structures,” Bertoli said.
Still, Thomas Chawner, a senior planner with the town who conducted the presentation, said the community’s desire to improve public safety and decrease blight were taken into account in making the plans.
“There’s a need for better enforcement for derelict properties in the hub area,” he said. “Affordable housing — we heard loud and clear in both studies people are feeling that their children cannot afford housing. They don’t want their children to leave Long Island. They need affordable housing.”
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) was also at the meeting and threw his support behind the proposal.
“I’m with the civic on this, because this community is a great community and really deserves all of our effort to make sure that it’s always going in the right direction, not the wrong direction,” he said.
Community members present at the meeting expressed both support and concerns relating to the presented possibilities for redevelopment. Some are worried about coordination between the interested parties — namely the community, the town’s planning department and the private developers — from the planning stage to the actual implementation stage. Others conveyed opposition to increased population density in the area and the possibility of more traffic. Those in support stressed that the combination of residential, retail and restaurant spaces would provide for the desired outcome — a vibrant, walkable downtown with feet on the streets, fostering an environment intolerant of the drug use and violence garnering the headlines in the area at present.
The plan, in addition to the physical building options, also laid out suggestions for aesthetic “streetscape” fixes that could also help to foster that desired environment, like crosswalks decorated with commissioned art and plantings hanging from light poles. Strategically placed pocket parks or passive green spaces, as well as a community center, were also listed as possible addendums to the larger plans.
Charlie Lefkowitz, who owns much of the real estate in the hub study area, said in a phone interview he has worked with the town in visioning improvement in the area and intends to continue to do so.
A blight study is expected to begin and be concluded by early 2019, which will trigger the next steps of the revitalization plan.