Herald Editorial

Needed: smart development, not overdevelopment


“Our quality of life is under attack,” is a constant refrain from longtime residents of a community whenever change starts — especially when it involves building homes on previously vacant land, or constructing much larger buildings than what exists in a neighborhood already.

“We already have too much traffic.” “Our schools will be overrun.” Two more phrases that are typically tossed out by neighbors when they think they’ll be swamped by what they call “overdevelopment.”

Overdevelopment, by the way, is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the process of building too many new houses, factories, etc. on an area of land.”
But what is too many?

The fact is, population is growing. By a lot. A century ago, more than 114 million people called America home. Today, that number is 340 million.

Woodmere — the most populated community in the Five Towns — watched its population grow from just south of 6,400 in 1940 to more than 17,600 today. And it continues to grow.

It goes without saying — all those people need places to live. But they also need places to shop and get what they need. Places that will need employees to make them function, bringing money back into the community.

Drive across Long Island — and don’t skip the Five Towns — and you’ll see as you move from one community to another there is always the recognizable “strip mall” that usually features an anchor store or business that attracts customers for the pizza place, Chinese takeout, cards and gift store and a barber shop or hair salon.

It’s easy to say the Five Towns is already congested with people, traffic and businesses, but not necessarily in a bad way. Whether it be in Hewlett and Woodmere along Broadway with thriving commercial enterprises, to Central Avenue in Cedarhurst and Lawrence, and Doughty Boulevard in Inwood — it is more than likely that a lifelong or longtime resident could point to areas where there was no businesses or homes at one point, but where they exist now.

Still, we have to remain smart about our growth, to make sure it happens in a way we can manage it, without drowning in more people and vehicles.

That brings us to the proposed 110-acre Woodmere Club. A three-story Amazon warehouse on the Nassau County-Queens border already in use. More than a dozen approved single-family homes on property formerly owned by the Lawrence Woodmere Academy. Nearly 20 acres of transit-oriented development in Inwood and North Lawrence.

The approved Pearsall project in Cedarhurst not yet started. And even Far Rockaway’s Rockaway Village Apartments, which — when finished — will comprise of eight buildings and 1,700 residential units.

All of these will impact the area’s traffic, and potentially make home feel a little more crowded. Especially when the Town of Hempstead’s six-month building moratorium on transit-oriented developments expires next week. Proponents of less development — and smarter development — would like to see the moratorium extended.

Short of that, it’s important to urge developers, government officials, neighbors and local business leaders to join forces — whether it is in the Five Towns or in any community — and adopt a more holistic view of development.

Planning should take into account an area’s unique character, strengths and weaknesses. If a place is called “the Five Towns,” don’t divide the communities even more. Bring them together.

If a place has old or weak infrastructure, build that up before construction on new developments are proposed.

Collaborative development could create jobs, improve the manner public services are delivered, and enhance infrastructure. The decision-making process should be inclusive and transparent.

Developers need to build eco-friendly structures, help to preserve green space, and use energy-efficient technologies to mitigate the environmental impact. In doing so, they contribute to the community, establish themselves as partners with the residents, business owners and the governing municipality.

Government must do its part by understanding the long-term consequences of any development. Instituting strong zoning regulations and using environmental impact assessments to guide the decision-making process should help to ensure development aligns with a community’s quality of life.

And residents need to get off the sidelines and speak with the developers and government officials to address concerns and aspirations for their community to help influence the development process from the beginning.

The next town meeting is March 12. Those who can be there, should be there, to ensure their voices about the future of their neighborhoods — and their quality of life — are heard and defended.