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Copiague LIRR station apartments plan divides residents

A housing project for the Copiague downtown was

A housing project for the Copiague downtown was the subject of a Babylon Town Planning Board meeting July 27, 2015. The housing would be near the Long Island Rail Road station in Copiague where this train took on passengers on March 4, 2009. Credit: Newsday / Ana P. Gutierrez

A plan to build 90 rental apartments in downtown Copiague, the first under rezoning intended to revitalize the largely commercial and industrial area surrounding the Long Island Rail Road station, has divided the community.

Some who attended a Monday night Babylon Town Planning Board public hearing said the proposed $21 million project would spur commerce and investment in the hamlet by attracting more young people. Others argued that those residents -- along with their children and cars -- would overwhelm infrastructure they say is already strained.

Representatives for upstate Rochester-based Conifer Realty, a firm that specializes in affordable housing and owns and operates 220 apartment complexes in the United States, including five on Long Island, proposed two four-story buildings with 56 one-bedroom and 34 two-bedroom apartments for a two-acre parcel at 54 Railroad Ave., higher and denser than zoning allows.

In return, the developer would make changes to the Railroad Avenue streetscape intended to make it friendlier to pedestrians, build a publicly accessible green space between its two buildings and make cash donations of nearly $600,000 for local services.

Rents would be below market rate, starting at $1,182 for one-bedroom apartments and $1,418 for two-bedroom units. The apartments would also be income-restricted. The one-bedroom units would be open to tenants with a household income between $44,000 and $77,000; the two-bedroom income range would be $50,000 to $96,000.

The planning board could take weeks to issue a decision, but board member Tracey Groomes indicated her support for the application Monday night because of her experience growing up in a similar development: "I'm a product of this kind of housing," she said. "It was clean, everybody worked. Our incomes were lower but we had a great community . . . I'm on the side of maybe giving it a chance."

Her comments served as a gentle rebuke to some opponents of the project who have said municipal officials would "dump" low-income renters there.

Most of the concerns voiced Monday night had to do with congestion and the project's scale. "We live in a hamlet, not a metropolis," said Helen Reilly of Copiague.

Kevin Galvin, another hamlet resident, said it would worsen traffic that already backs up for blocks and make it harder to find street parking near the LIRR station. "This is not the right project," he said, "with the strain on infrastructure that this is going to place" on the community.

Copiague Chamber of Commerce president Sharon Fattoruso supports the project. Commercially, at least, downtown Copiague is "dead," she said, and housing in the region is so expensive that two of her children had to leave Long Island.

"I'm amazed that people don't want to see change in Copiague," Fattoruso said. "This will help our businesses, our community, and make it a better place to live."

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