Report says rentals are key to keeping LI's young

Downtown Northport where there is a mixture of Downtown Northport where there is a mixture of old time shops, popular restaurants and shopping. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

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Adapt or watch a generation of young professionals flee.

That's the message to municipalities from this year's Long Island Index report, which is to be released Thursday. It again focuses on underutilized downtowns. With few exceptions, the 13 towns, two cities and 22 villages that participated have been slow to embrace smart growth, the report concludes.

Outdated master plans and zoning codes hurt, but the report lays most blame on restrictions for developing high-density rental housing that typically anchors downtown redevelopment and attracts young adults.

Of the Long Island residents age 18 to 34 who participated in an Index survey, 64 percent said they plan to leave in the next five years. Three-quarters of the total 807 Long Island residents polled said the loss of younger residents is a serious problem, compared with 40 percent of those in suburban New Jersey who also participated in the 8th annual report, "Getting It Done: Aligning Long Island's Development Processes with Sustainable Economic Growth."

"All my nieces and nephews are moving away. And all my old friends, they're gone," said Mira Garland, 33, a Mastic stay-at-home mom and survey respondent. "They complain they can't afford to live here."

Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch foundation, a Garden City charity that funds various family and environment programs as well as the Long Island Index, said, "it's obvious we have not kept pace." Last year, the index identified 8,300 acres with development potential in 150 Long Island downtowns.

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Hicksville was one such area. The Town of Oyster Bay, which includes the large hamlet, didn't participate in the index's land use planning survey, but town officials have opposed increased density.

"This bigger-is-better, or denser-is-better, approach, where one size fits all, we don't believe in that," Hal Mayer, Oyster Bay's environmental consultant to the supervisor, said Wednesday. "Each community knows what's best for itself."

The index acknowledged some progress. It cited Patchogue, Amityville and Mineola villages and Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Hempstead towns as trying to reshape their downtowns.

But only Hempstead, Long Island's most-populated town, has undertaken a transit-oriented development. The district around West Hempstead's LIRR station is to include a 150-unit apartment complex within walking distance of the station, a town spokesman said.

The index concluded other towns mostly ignore potential around the Long Island Rail Road, creating "isolated station(s) in a sea of parking."

The Huntington Town Board in September rejected the transit-oriented Avalon Bay housing development in Huntington Station. Critics claimed the project would have overburdened the community while supporters called it key to revitalization.

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