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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Glen Cove goes 'Avatar' on building renderings

The city of Glen Cove is the first

The city of Glen Cove is the first municipality in the nation to require that would-be builders of large developments use 3-D digital animations. Don't expect James Cameron to show up. Credit: AP

The city of Glen Cove is the first municipality in the nation to require that would-be builders of large developments use 3-D digital animations from the start to let viewers "walk" down streets, "look" to the sky and "climb" the roof day or night to see how proposals would affect the community.

They call it the Visual Simulation ordinance, which passed during the waning days of 2009. But the name's waaaay too geeky. They ought to upgrade it to something more accessible, like the "Avatar" ordinance. Because the law is waaaay too cool.

The animations - the first of which likely won't show up until later this year, when developers submit proposals under the new ordinance - won't show up in IMAX theaters, or require 3-D glasses. And mega-blockbuster director James Cameron will be nowhere in sight.

But that can't take away from the novelty of it all.

"We will be able to see where shadows on a new building fall, how the view in the neighborhood changes," said Ralph Suozzi, Glen Cove's mayor. "It's exciting."

What makes Glen Cove's law different from those passed in other places, such as British Columbia, is that animations are required from day one for proposed large subdivisions and developments.

In the planning phase, sticks could represent trees. And problems that turn up with, say, a three-story building could be solved on the spot by trimming down to two stories using a computer animation program.

As the proposal wends its way through the approval process, the animation would begin to grow more realistic: With trees looking like trees and brick work taking the place of blank walls on a facade.

By the time the proposal got to the public hearing stage, the animation would be so close to reality that developers, if they chose, could use it to market their work if the project won city approval.

And the public would be able to "walk" through an animation that shows a building plopped down in a real neighborhood accurate in measurement and scale - as opposed to a conceptual rendering.

"At the public hearing, everyone will know that what they see is what they will get," said Michael Kwartler, president of Environmental Simulation Center in Manhattan, which helped Suozzi with the ordinance.

Suozzi said he got the idea to use 3-D after he took office and had to tackle a proposed development on the city's waterfront. There was a model. And then it got changed. And then it got changed, again.

Meanwhile, there were other development proposals bubbling up. Suozzi, at one point, imposed a building moratorium to slow things down. And then Glen Cove, well ahead of other municipalities who are now making the same moves, came up with a master plan.

Through it all, one thing nagged Suozzi. He wanted to see - literally see - what some of the bigger development proposals would look like. And he wanted other officials and the public to be able to "see" them as well.

At night. From the roof. From around the corner, or across the harbor.

It's a terrific real-world application of technology that gained popularity with movies such as "Toy Story." Digital 3-D is now so common that anyone can use freeware - such as Google SketchUp, Blender and Anim8tor - to give it a try.

"Who wouldn't want to use this technology?" Kwartler asked.

For Glen Cove, the new law also will mean new computers and flat-screen televisions, so everyone can see everything at the same time. And, over time, the city could feed more information - such as traffic studies or sewers and other city infrastructure - into animations.

"There will be no more squinting and straining and imagining," Suozzi said. "Everyone will be able to see the same thing at the same time."

Kind of like sitting in a movie theater "visiting" Cameron's Pandora. Only, for Glen Cove, what's on screen someday could become reality.

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