With Amazon on the way, let’s rethink housing


In late November, Lynbrook’s board of trustees relented in the face of widespread community opposition to plans for a 200-unit apartment building and four-story parking garage in the village’s downtown, denying its developer’s application with a unanimous vote.

Officials reasoned that the project would have been too tall to abut a block of single-family homes and a church, and would have significantly altered the neighborhood’s character.

The developer will likely return with a new, scaled-down project. We urge Lynbrook residents to listen. In this rapidly changing economy, in which wages have remained stagnant, property taxes have continued to rise and local brick-and-mortar businesses are struggling in the face of stiff web-based competition, communities must make bold choices or fall behind.

With news that Amazon’s second headquarters is coming to Long Island City, Queens, bringing with it 50,000 new jobs, the Island is poised for a housing renaissance, but in order for that to happen, residents must be open to change.

Most suburban development experts agree: Long Island’s downtowns need higher-density, transit-oriented rental and workforce housing for younger professionals who are unable or unwilling to pay the $500,000 average price for a home here. To buy such a house, you need a minimum down payment of $100,000. That’s a lot of money for a millennial couple saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

And Nassau County’s North and South Shores are ripe for transit-oriented development. On average, it’s a half-hour to 50-minute trip into Manhattan from most Nassau train stations — less to Long Island City.

The Island has for 70 years been a haven for bedroom communities, comprising mainly single-family homes, but now it’s time for us to consider — and accept — a different configuration of commuter housing, based in our downtowns.

It’s estimated that downtown development projects in Lynbrook could bring in millions every year in new revenue for local businesses. Why? Because the apartment dwellers would spend money downtown. A strong business community helps sustain property values. After all, who wants to live in a neighborhood full of boarded-up stores?

Many have held up Farmingdale’s downtown as a success story — and it is. According to its mayor, Ralph Ekstrand, during his administration’s eight-year downtown revitalization effort, the village reduced the number of vacant stores in its main business district from 26 to two — yes, two!

The initiative, Ekstrand said, was based on the concept of transit-oriented housing, which he first learned about at a Vision Long Island summit in 2007. A few years later, when construction began on the first project in Farmingdale — a 154-unit apartment building — Ekstrand said it caused a “snowball effect,” with more developers approaching his administration with ideas for apartment complexes and businesses.

The key to downtown development in Farmingdale, Ekstrand said, was the creation of a mixed-use downtown zone to encourage transit-oriented development. Additionally, his administration streamlined the permitting process to allow developers to seek approval for construction from multiple village agencies simultaneously, instead of moving through various boards and departments one at a time.

Transit-oriented housing projects are not a cure-all for Nassau’s financial woes. Many may receive tax-incentive deals from the county and towns as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, projects, like a 230-unit apartment complex planned for Oceanside, which was given a 15-year PILOT and several other incentives from the county. Such projects will do relatively little in the short run to reduce local property taxes, until the PILOT terms expire.

Additionally, without proper planning, such projects could cause traffic headaches in already congested areas, a chief concern among the Lynbrook development’s detractors. But just as transit-oriented rentals are an out-of-the-box revitalization tool, there are other out-of-the-box transit solutions that have yet to be tried here.

At Vision Long Island’s latest summit on Nov. 29, one attendee suggested to the stalled Lynbrook project’s developers that they include space in their building for short-term rental companies such as Zipcar to reduce vehicle ownership among renters and hence traffic congestion. Another traffic-alleviating solution pitched during a Nov. 27 meeting in Valley Stream on downtown revitalization was to bring in an electric scooter rental service such as Bird.

New York is on the cusp of a seismic transformation akin to that in Silicon Valley over the past 50 years, with many high-tech companies besides Amazon moving into our corner of the world. There will be numerous winners and some losers, but all of us will lose out unless we are open to change — in our hearts and our downtowns.