Lee Koppelman, a visionary suburban planner pioneer who helped shape Long Island’s parks, roads, mass transportation and economic hubs, died Monday at age 94.
He died of natural causes at Stony Brook University Hospital, whose creation he had supported, daughter Lesli Ross told Newsday.
Koppelman, Suffolk County’s first planning director and the first leader of what is now the Long Island Regional Planning Council, proposed many of the "revolutionary" ideas that made Long Island what it is today, former colleagues said.
Koppelman, who spent four decades as Long Island’s planning czar, helped preserve tens of thousands of acres of open space and farmland.
He helped extend the Long Island Expressway eastward from Melville and Sunrise Highway into the Hamptons, while also advocating for public bus systems, former colleagues said.
Koppelman worked to create the Ronkonkoma industrial hub around MacArthur Airport, the Hauppauge Industrial Park and the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip.
And he had such influence as an environmentalist — he helped preserve the pine barrens and mapped out how to manage coastal zones — that he has preserves in Montauk and Setauket named after him.
“Long Island just lost a giant,” said friend and former student Kevin Law, executive vice president and partner at TRITEC Real Estate and formerly president of the Long Island Association.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said officials still draw from Koppelman’s ideas, including for investment in sewer construction and creation of public transit corridors.
“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainable development on Long Island was well ahead of his time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives we are still pursuing to this day,” Bellone said Tuesday in a statement.
Koppelman was born in May 1927 in Manhattan to parents Max and Madelyn, who owned a greenhouse in Queens and a flower shop on Madison Avenue, Ross said. He attended Bryant High School in Astoria, where he grew up.
At age 17, he met his future wife, Connie, then 13, at a synagogue youth group performance in which she sang. They eloped in July 1947 and had a wedding about a year later.
In 1945, he joined the U.S. Navy and served for a year, Ross said.
Koppelman graduated from the City College of New York. He earned a master’s degree from Pratt Institute and a doctorate in public administration from New York University.
Koppelman owned a landscape architect business, Ross said, and in 1952 moved to Hauppauge, where he built a home. He later spent many years living in Smithtown and the Setauket area.
His planning career began when Suffolk County Executive H. Lee Dennison offered him the post as Suffolk’s first planning director.
He served in the job from 1960 to 1988, and led the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board from 1965 to 2006.
He drafted three master plans for the Long Island region. He envisioned development around communities creation of retail centers along major arteries, said former longtime colleague Seth Forman.
Koppelman believed the physical environment "affects humanity a great deal, and he wanted to be a part of shaping it for the public good,” said Forman, now an editor of a journal for the National Association of Scholars.
But some of his recommendations, including construction of 100,000 units of affordable in Nassau and Suffolk, were ignored or generated public opposition, former colleagues said.
“He's had at least as many defeats as he had victories,” Forman said.
Koppelman was a popular professor at Stony Brook University and director of its Center for Regional Policy Studies.
He continued teaching at Stony Brook until last semester, political science department chair Leonie Huddy said.
Koppelman is survived by his wife and four children, Lesli Ross of Boca Raton, Florida, Claudia Koppelman of Northampton, Massachusetts, Laurel Heard of St. Louis and Keith Koppelman of upstate Gardiner; and three grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown. He will be interred at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing.
A public shiva will be held Friday, Sunday and Monday at 1 Jefferson Ferry Drive, South Setauket, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Hadassah or the Doctors Connie and Lee Koppelman Endowed Fellowship Fund in Political Science through the Stony Brook Foundation.