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Babylon planners envision a new downtown Copiague of apartments, retail space

Bernard Zimnoch, an attorney whose family owns the

Bernard Zimnoch, an attorney whose family owns the one-story building on Great Neck Road, seen on Monday, April 13, 2015, says he is contemplating adding two more floors. Credit: Steve Pfost

A plan to turn downtown Copiague into a commercial and residential hub received unanimous approval last week from the Babylon Town Board.

The rezoning of 31 acres around Great Neck Road and the Copiague Long Island Rail Road station passed by a 3-0 vote on April 7, with two board members absent. New town rules intended to promote denser mixed-use development of the area are expected to usher in $144 million of private construction over the next decade, under one scenario envisioned by town planners.

Under that "maximum build out" scenario, there would be 420 residential units and 245,064 square feet of retail space, with parks expanded and industrial space reduced by 96,000 square feet.

"There is a lot of pent-up demand for downtown development," said Jonathan Keyes, director of the town's Office of Downtown Revitalization. "The zoning creates the basic conditions that private investors will be looking for."

Much of Copiague's downtown is now dominated by low-rise industrial and commercial buildings, but town officials hope new zoning permitting residential and mixed-use buildings will attract developers, especially in the area immediately surrounding the LIRR station.

Incentives for certain kinds of development -- workforce housing or "green" construction, for example -- will permit up to 48 housing units per acre and buildings of up to four stories, denser and higher than elsewhere in the hamlet.

Town planners envision buildings with street-level retail and offices and apartments above, inhabited by residents who would take the train to work or to visit other parts of Long Island.

By specifying dimensions and materials -- sidewalks would be at least 15 feet wide; brick, stucco or stone would be preferred for buildings -- they hope to create a neighborhood that is compact instead of sprawling, welcoming instead of "desolate," as a town report once put it.

One developer, Rochester-based Conifer Realty, is already in contract to buy an industrial warehouse at 54 Railroad Ave. and plans to build a 90-unit apartment building on the site. Rents would start at $1,200 for one-bedrooms and $1,420 for two-bedrooms. There will be some affordable housing but no federal Section 8 housing.

"This type of state-of-the-art project is only going to increase property values," said Andrew Crossed, a Conifer principal. "The market and the need for these types of apartments is very deep."

Opponents of the town plan say it will increase the load on area schools and emergency services, as well as add traffic to an already congested Great Neck Road.

"It's being forced on the people, and the people don't seem to want it," said Stephen Baierlein, a chief liquid natural gas operator with National Grid. "Everybody believes it's going to bring property values down."

Planners say that new development will bring new tax revenue. To ease traffic, Great Neck Road will be widened, traffic lights will be recalibrated and new turning lanes will be added to some area streets.

Bernard Zimnoch, an attorney whose family owns a one-story building on Great Neck Road, said he is considering adding a second story for more offices and a third for apartments, confident that demand for both will grow.

"As more people come in there's more of a need for services," he said. "One follows the other."

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