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Civic groups on Long Island join forces to fight development

Residents say they are willing to travel to each other’s neighborhoods to protest large-scale projects because ‘numbers always speak louder.’

Demonstrators protest the proposed Heartland and Greybarn projects

Demonstrators protest the proposed Heartland and Greybarn projects at Islip Town Hall on April 24. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Civic associations and residents are reaching across community borders on Long Island to fight development projects in each other’s backyards.

Opponents have joined to criticize projects such as Heartland Town Square, a complex slated to include 9,000 apartments in Brentwood, and Greybarn Sayville, a 1,365-unit apartment complex proposed at the former Island Hills Golf Club.

“It would be in all our best interest to align,” said Milynn Augulis, a Sayville-based co-founder of the “Stop Island Hills” group, which recently merged with the Bohemia Civic Association to oppose the Greybarn project. “Numbers always speak louder than just a handful” of protesters.

Members of these groups say they want to maintain Long Island’s suburban feel and are voicing shared concerns about overcrowding, traffic, an influx of renters who are perceived as less invested in the community, and potential harm to the environment.

“The important thing [for newly proposed developments] is also to see what the neighboring communities are doing,” Augulis said. “When one hand is not watching the other, we’re going to end up with massive developments that will never be able to sustain occupancy.”

The power of numbers was visible on April 24 when The 4 Towns Civic Association, which represents residents from Islip, Huntington, Smithtown and Babylon, partnered with Sayville, Bay Shore and Bohemia residents for a joint protest against Heartland and Greybarn at Islip Town Hall. More than 100 people showed up with signs opposing each project.

“The new face of nimbyism, is not, ‘not in my backyard’ — it’s ‘not in my region,’ ” said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that advocates for transit-oriented development. “The loudest voices against projects now are people saying, from a regional perspective, that we shouldn’t have this development or that project.”

But town officials said large crowds of protesters aren’t necessarily enough to sway decisions as they consider new development projects.

“Numbers are, of course, impressive, but what’s most impressive is when you come with a good argument,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.

Many civic associations, such as Civics United of Huntington and the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, have united under umbrella groups and are looking for new ways to partner on social media and at protests.

“What happens in one person’s backyard can happen in another,” said Steve Spucces, co-founder of Civics United of Huntington, which represents seven civic organizations.

The collaboration has been happening across Long Island:

  • Residents of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Head of the Harbor Village have opposed the Gyrodyne development in Smithtown, where company officials envision a $150 million project with a hotel, assisted living units and medical offices. Gyrodyne is awaiting the results of an environmental impact statement before town officials make a decision on whether it can subdivide the parcel.
  • A coalition of 10 civic associations, stretching from Lindenhurst to Huntington, came together to oppose development at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale that would add numerous hangars and a 13,000-square-foot headquarters, and pave four new aircraft parking areas. The project is moving forward.
  • Multiple villages within North Hempstead, including New Hyde Park and Floral Park, joined to oppose the nearly $2 billion proposal for a third Long Island Rail Road track, a project pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that would add a track along 9.8 miles of the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. The project is now underway.

One of the challenges to collaboration is that while two developments on Long Island may not be far from each other geographically, it can be difficult to get neighboring communities to care about projects that don’t affect them personally, said Richard Murdocco, an adjunct professor in Stony Brook University’s graduate public policy program.

“Anytime you have a collective group of residents who want to become more civically involved begin to work together, you’ll see the localized interests meld into the regional,” Murdocco said. “Their efforts will be more effective because their platform will grow substantially.”

Alexander said development works best when projects are driven by communities planning their own future.

A Vision Long Island study on data collected over the past six years found roughly “81 of the last 94 transit-oriented development projects in downtowns have had more supporters than opponents,” Alexander said. “Those supporters have largely come from local civics and chambers and people in the community, not outsiders.”

The group bases that estimate on information from public hearings for projects in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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