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Developers urge local governments to ease online permitting process

Kyle Strober, executive director of Association for a

Kyle Strober, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island. Credit: Sarina Trangle

Real estate developers have launched a campaign to convince local governments that a more open approach to development will be critical to reviving Long Island's economy, starting with an initiative to digitize project approval processes. 

Long Island Builders Institute CEO Mitchell Pally said during a teleconference Thursday that he and other business leaders have started sending memos promoting a "municipal modernization plan" to town and village officials. The letter calls for allowing all aspects of permit and other applications to be handled electronically, including public hearings, and for inspections to be handled by third parties or proceed virtually. 

"Everything the real estate community does with a municipality costs money," Pally said, referring to application and other fees. "The more approvals they give, the more money they make. The more approvals they give, the more people go back to work. It's an exact science on Long Island."

The memo, which was also signed by leaders from Association for a Better Long Island and Long Island Association, was praised by others attending a teleconference Industry One Realty hosted on the region's economy.

"They’ve got to stop looking at developers like big bad monsters who just want to line their pockets and start allowing sensible development to go through," said Scott Burman, a principal at Engel Burman, which focuses on senior housing projects. "I hope that COVID's a catalyst for something.”

Towns stand to lose millions if construction remains sidelined, according to Kyle Strober, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island.

"Until there’s a vaccine, face-to-face interactions, sitting in a Town Hall waiting room to submit an application, things like that won’t really happen," Strober said. "The villages need to use this crisis as an opportunity to modernize their departments, invest in technology, create efilings, virtual meetings, virtual consultations, so economic development can still move forward."

But governments should be cautious about fast-tracking changes when constituents may be particularly busy dealing with health and child care, according to Laura Shultz, president of Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset, a civic group.

"Everyone is busy taking care of themselves and their families," Shultz said. "That's a real concern with open government. … It [development] really needs the public oversight."

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