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LI town and village projects key to tax base, future, planners say

Renaissance Downtowns wants to change downtown Hempstead. Here

Renaissance Downtowns wants to change downtown Hempstead. Here is an artist's rendering of a $2.5 billion project on North Main Street in Hempstead Village. The project is still being debated.

Several major construction projects across Long Island were highlighted at a regional planning meeting Tuesday as potential game-changers to boost the Island's sagging tax base and provide more housing options and vibrant communities, keeping young adults and aging baby boomers here.

Four developers, appearing at the Long Island Regional Planning Council's meeting at Hofstra University, gave updates on revitalization and development projects in Wyandanch, Glen Cove, Hempstead, Islip, Huntington Station and Riverside.

John Cameron, council chairman, said the projects could be important economic catalysts for the Island.

"If we don't grow the tax base, the [tax] rate must go up," Cameron said, adding, "the rate going up is the potential death knell for Long Island. So, we really need to grow the commercial and residential tax base. In order to do that, we need major projects. . . . These are projects which really do affect our vitality and our capability to be sustainable here on Long Island."

Many of the projects have been years in the making.

Brandon Palanker, vice president of marketing and public affairs for Renaissance Downtowns, developer of the Downtown Hempstead Village project -- which he billed as "the largest project currently approved on Long Island" -- said it was "good to see things happening." He also talked about projects in Huntington Station and Riverside.

Wyandanch Rising's "vision of what could be" began in 2003 under then-Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone, now the Suffolk County executive, said Russell Albanese, chairman of the Garden City-based Albanese Organization, the project's developer.

Babylon Town's downtown revitalization project for the struggling Wyandanch hamlet has been described as an ambitious $500 million public-private partnership to build mixed-used residential and retail buildings, a transit plaza and open green space centered on the Long Island Rail Road station there.

The first building, which consists of 91 apartments over ground-floor retail space, has been completed, Albanese said, adding that 55 percent of the units are considered affordable.

"Everything is high-quality," Albanese said of the apartments' construction and amenities, citing stainless steel kitchen appliances and granite countertops.

In addition to providing residential housing and commercial enterprises, Albanese said a goal is to "provide opportunities for people in the community. We worked closely with the town's resource center" to give residents job training.

Richard O'Kane, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, said the Wyandanch Rising project was the only one where he had been able to get work for his members, and lamented not being able to get meetings with other developers.

Other developers at the council meeting said they were open to talking to O'Kane about his concerns.

David Wolkoff, president of Heartland, said he is hopeful that Islip Town officials will approve the Heartland Town Square project. That proposal includes 9,000 apartments, 1 million square feet of retail and 3 million square feet of office space to be built over three decades.

Wolkoff said the Island needs more rental units, as well as more locally centered entertainment options. "Young folks and baby boomers are asking for the same thing," he said.

"What we need on Long Island is a boost," Wolkoff said. "Long Island is at a precipice now" where, he suggested, it's time to do things differently.


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