If only every main road could be a downtown. The ones we know and love, the ones with walkable streets, sights to see, unique restaurants to eat at, a feeling that life is being lived there at every level.
Though of course anything is better than driving down the highway and passing by the umpteenth empty strip mall, with enough “for rent” signs to recreate a new mall entirely.
And it makes it that much more glaring when it seems every developer focuses on the new — of a new apartment complex or a new shopping mall or a new medical park — all ignoring the multitudes of empty complexes dotting the Long Island landscape. New development, especially that which plows ahead without concern for the neighborhood, next leads to issues of congestion and the impact on the environment. Meanwhile, local electeds are vying for shrinking pots of funds to buy up and preserve land that keeps the environmental vistas, as we have on the North Shore, viable and serene. There will never be enough money to buy up every stretch of forest or meadow or beach.
Reporting on North Shore Long Island sometimes feels like watching a hoard of starving animals vying for the smallest strip of meat, as discarded carcasses rot not 5 feet away.
That’s why the Town of Brookhaven’s plans for a so-called commercial redevelopment district zoning are so interesting, because it seems like one of the few real efforts we at TBR News Media have seen toward incentivizing rebuilding instead of new development. Though we also hope that such developer incentives can find ways around abuse, especially when too many developers are already incentivized to build with things like Industrial Development Agency tax deals.
Brookhaven’s proposed CRD special zoning, as proposed, will only be available to those property owners who can prove they are redesigning aging property with walkability, livability and commercial interests all in one. Such applications for that special zoning will also be at the discretion of the Town Board.
If the idea pans out, it could mean a massive push toward revitalization in places such as Port Jefferson Station. If it does what it’s intended to do, other towns like Smithtown or Huntington, who are suffering their own ills of vacant stores and strip malls, could adopt something similar as well. It would be nice, for a change, to hear from a developer about redesigning an eyesore rather than the usual plan to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.
Though we also have to share our reservations. Developers are already well incentivized throughout Suffolk County to build anew, especially with a multitude of deals coming from IDAs at both the county and town level. In Port Jefferson, for example, every single new apartment complex in the past several years has been given a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. While IDA board members say such projects will contribute to the economy, these new developments hardly add any significant job numbers to the local economy once the building process is complete.
Brookhaven’s CRD zoning intends that developers will get more leeway on applications for rebuilding based on location or how many amenities there are — such as green space or places for social activity. The risk is that these same builders will find ways to take advantage of these deals while still getting IDA money. Such a new zoning will need even greater scrutiny on applications than is already happening at the town level. A bike rack here or there isn’t worth as much to a community as a new location’s property taxes.
Still, overall, we think this could be a great leap in the right direction. We hope both local developers and local government are up to the task of revitalizing the commercial areas too long neglected.