'Smart growth' is not a universal term

Patchogue Main Street business district in 2008.

Patchogue Main Street business district in 2008. (Credit: Ken Spencer)

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Regarding "Long Island puts business on high wire" [Opinion, Feb. 14], this piece on the current state of Nassau County's competitiveness makes some valid points about tax rates keeping businesses out of the region. However, in his discussion of planning issues on Long Island, I feel that David Pennetta has missed the mark.

Mr. Pennetta wrote that Long Island needs to embrace a more sustainable model for development, which he defines as smart-growth planning. It's easy enough to advocate "smart growth," but first the planning community must arrive at a consensus on what exactly that is. The urban planning journal Foresight says that the term "smart growth" is being adopted by groups trying to change what they regard as the undesirable impacts of suburban sprawl. In reality, there is no consensus, and as a result, Long Islanders are being presented unfeasible plans.

Mr. Pennetta encourages "mixed-use, higher-density housing." Currently, without proper infrastructure in place, high-density residential development is not right for most areas. Density should be determined after strict environmental studies by planners and scientists. If a municipality increases density in one area, but fails to preserve open space in another, the result is just higher density sprawl, and nobody on Long Island wants that.

We Long Islanders have to remember that our aquifer can only sustain certain amounts of growth, and Nassau County is already at near-maximum capacity. Most of Suffolk's downtowns are limited by their reliance on septic systems.

Last, Mr. Pennetta wrote that the end result of this smart growth planning is "revived downtowns." The truth is, redeveloping Long Island's downtowns isn't as simple as many are lead to believe.

Recently, the Long Island Index identified 8,300 acres with development potential in 150 Long Island downtowns. This is misleading, particularly because just over half of that land is set aside for parking, which in many downtowns is an irreplaceable asset.

It is one thing to promote both economic development and housing for all age groups regardless of income. But trendy buzzwords and ideological planning exercises are not solutions to Nassau's woes.

Richard Murdocco

Setauket

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