Planning to avoid battles

Planning to avoid battles

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A recurring battle along the North Shore that we’re noticing is the struggle communities go through to maintain historical characteristics while also satisfying modern business needs.

Where town or village codes may be lacking to maintain historical and/or architectural cohesion, community leaders are recognizing the importance of creating visioning plans. Our hope is that the want for sense of place is mixed with the needs of businesses in order to fill empty storefronts when crafting each plan in order to create a healthy mix.

Setting up guidelines to maintain its architectural heritage and cohesion is something Port Jefferson Village is paying attention to. At the end of last year, a draft resolution based on a meeting of the village’s architectural review committee was introduced. If passed, it would require new buildings in the village’s commercial districts to adhere to designs consistent with Port Jeff’s “Victorian, maritime heritage” and to avoid a “hodgepodge” of buildings. The policy is far from complete but standards are being discussed, and that’s a good start.

Constructing a visioning plan, with the assistance of residents and business owners, would be beneficial for revitalization in areas like Broadway in Rocky Point. Setauket and Stony Brook residents took a step in the right direction when community leaders, residents and business owners met in 2016 and 2017 to create the Route 25A Three Village Area Visioning Report. The report, approved by the Brookhaven Town Board and pending the adoption of a land-use study by the town’s planning department, creates guidelines for issues that affect the Three Village area including maintaining cohesive architecture.

It gave the Three Village Civic Association some backup when it opposed the owners of a Shell gas station in Setauket on Route 25A applying for variances to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The company submitted proposed plans to construct a large canopy and a lighted electric sign at the gas station. The board closed an April 18 hearing without a decision and, according to town guidelines, has 62 days to make one. While the owners say most gas stations have canopies, residents at the hearing provided evidence to the contrary along Route 25A between St. James and Port Jefferson.

If the gas station doesn’t get its way with its plans, we doubt it will vacate the premises. But what about other cases when a business owner feels an addition would attract more customers? This is when a visioning plan created with history in mind, but also present business needs can have the most impact. During discussions, compromise may be the key.

Northport Village has been able to strike such an agreement. Last summer, the village board was approached about building a hotel at 225 Main St. — something unheard of before then. While residents criticized the proposed plans, the village approved a code modification to make way for the inn. Then the village’s architectural review board toured the 1950s building to determine firsthand if it had any historic value, before allowing the proposed plans to move forward. This two-step process allowed for a democratic proceeding, while protests may have otherwise left empty storefronts or rundown properties standing as eyesores, which is not the best option.

With some discussion, civic-minded folks with a respect for historical aspects can keep business districts from looking like an unattractive mixture of buildings. Taking in the concerns of business owners, can keep those buildings filled.

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