Richard and Lisa Schary, founders of the Friends of Massapequa Preserve, stood at the entrance of the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury on Friday, eager to find John Cameron, of Rockville Centre, to congratulate him.
Cameron, founder of Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering and Associates, and chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, received the nonprofit Vision Long Island’s Regional Leadership Award at a luncheon attended by 900 lawmakers, developers, engineers, architects, environmentalists and entrepreneurs on May 9.
Under Cameron’s leadership, “the Long Island Regional Planning Council has stayed true to its mission to become an important organization on Long Island that has helped create better economic conditions,” read a statement by Vision Long Island, which advocates for “smart-growth” development in downtowns across the Island.
The core concept behind smart growth, said Vision Long Island Executive Director Eric Alexander, is what planners call “transit-oriented housing” — apartment complexes built within downtowns near train and bus stations. Residents can then walk to public transportation, which ferries them to and from work, without their having to drive.
The purpose of the Smart Growth Awards — now in their 16th year — is “to show that change is happening from the community level up,” Alexander said.
The Scharys, of North Bellmore, said they were impressed by the work that Cameron Engineering did on Nassau County’s Massapequa Preserve from 2007 to 2010, when the passive park, which is open only to hiking and biking, underwent a $6 million rehabilitation project.
Streambeds were widened to increase water flow, and their banks were reinforced, the Scharys said. As a consequence, the bicycle path had to be moved. John Cameron worked hand in hand with the Friends of Massapequa Preserve to ensure that the park never had to close to the public, as originally proposed, the Scharys said.
“It was the largest public-works project undertaken in a public park” in Nassau, Richard Schary noted.
Cameron Engineering is no stranger to major undertakings. Among its projects has been the Molloy College for Nursing in Rockville Centre, the Hofstra School of Medicine in Hempstead and Garvies Point, a 1,100-unit “mixed-use” condominium and rental-apartment complex in the works in the City of Glen Cove, which, when complete in 2019, will include 75,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Cameron Engineering has also worked on the City of Long Beach’s master plan.
There has been “great receptivity” to downtown development that incorporates apartment complexes with new retail spaces, John Cameron said.
Long Island, he said, suffers because of a “lack of diversity in housing stock.” Single-family homes are often too expensive for young people just starting out and for older residents on fixed incomes. For them, there just aren’t enough affordable apartment complexes.
Downtown development, Alexander noted, benefits the smaller downtown businesses by ensuring that there is a large enough population in close proximity to them to support them.
Cameron said finding solutions to ensure sustainable growth for Long Island “is a collective responsibility.” Infrastructure development, he said, is key.
“Without infrastructure, we’re not going to be able to grow our economy,” he said.
The Island’s power plants, many of which are now 50 and 60 years old, must be upgraded to bring them into compliance with modern environmental standards, at the same time that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind must be tapped, he said.
“He’s really been an inspiration,” Alexander said of Cameron. “He’s been a guide … He understands the crisis, but he sees the opportunity.”
In all, 12 individuals and municipalities were honored at the Smart Growth Awards. The Town of Hempstead and Nassau County were together recognized for their work to redevelop Baldwin’s aging downtown with new mixed-used development that includes retail spaces close to apartments. The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery is providing state grant money to finish the project. In May, the town selected developer Engel Burman-Basser Kaufman to lead the project.
Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, of Baldwin, who is running for county executive, was featured in a Vision Long Island video with Town of Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King-Sweeney, of Wantagh. Curran is a Democrat, while King-Sweeney is a Republican.
Also recognized at the awards ceremony was The Villa at Glen Cove, 176-unit luxury condominium complex, which is to include 160 market-rate and 16 “affordable” units. Queens-based Livingston Development Group, owned by Daniel Livingston, is completing the project.
Francine Koehler, of the Glen Cove Business Improvement District, said Glen Cove is a prime location for transit-oriented development because the city has three Long Island Rail Road stations. At the same time, it’s located on the Long Island Sound and should have ferry service by 2018.
Smart Growth, Alexander said, “isn’t a magical thing. It’s real progress.”