A team of consultants hired by the Town of Babylon is drafting revisions to East Farmingdale’s land development regulations that could fundamentally alter its landscape just as major transportation initiatives are moving forward in the hamlet.
A neighborhood of mixed-use apartment buildings served by a bus rapid transit line and a reopened Long Island Rail Road station are some of the possibilities for the area, officials say.
“East Farmingdale and the 110 corridor are absolutely critical to Long Island’s economic future,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “That’s why it’s at the heart of our economic development plans in Suffolk County.”
The Florida-based planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners is leading the rezoning effort.
At a Babylon Town public meeting earlier this month, the planners presented initial computer renderings of what the revised land development regulations could allow: three- to five-story buildings dotting a compact network of tree-lined streets on both sides of the railroad tracks north of Conklin Street and east of Route 110.
The renderings also envisioned bike lanes, wider sidewalks, new crosswalks and public gathering spaces.
Changes to the zoning code would mark the latest development in Babylon Town’s vision, at least a decade old, of a dense, walkable community with new public transit options at the core of the hamlet, which experts and officials say is brimming with potential.
The rezoning would center on the intersection of Route 110 and Conklin Street, said Victor Dover, a principal at the firm, to an audience of around 25 people at the presentation at the East Farmingdale Fire Department.
The meeting followed a week of design workshops in which the town and planners sought community and stakeholder input on the possible changes around the intersection near Republic Airport, which itself will soon host new development.
The intersection’s broad roadways and bare-bones pedestrian infrastructure make it hazardous both by car and on foot, Dover said. And the surrounding landscape of box stores, windswept parking lots and light industry do little to capitalize on the growing demand for housing in the area, other planners at the presentation added.
That demand has grown as Suffolk County has sought to foster the biotech industry along the Route 110 corridor, they said.
Those factors, paired with long-standing goals of the LIRR to reopen nearby Republic station and of Suffolk County to create a north-south bus rapid transit system along Route 110, make East Farmingdale a prime site for a transit-oriented development, Bellone said.
Both transit projects are moving forward.
Suffolk County plans to put out a request for proposals in April for design and engineering work related to the proposed bus system, whose main branch would run from Amityville to Huntington Station, Bellone said. The project is estimated to cost $35 million, he said, and construction could begin around 2020.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority committed $5 million in its 2015-19 capital program for preliminary design and environmental studies at Republic station, which closed in the 1980s.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said that the authority has not set a target date for reopening the station, as “our investment is contingent on there being appropriate redevelopment underway in the vicinity.”
That’s where the rezoning comes in.
“If there’s one place in the region where producing a quantity of new mixed-income housing would be right, it’s this one,” Dover said in an interview.
Such development would be possible under a new “form-based code” for the area around the intersection, which his firm is currently drafting. Form-based codes dictate first and foremost the design of a place, he said — the height of its buildings, their relation to the street — instead of land use.
The town is drawing on a $500,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation to pay Dover’s firm a fee of $400,000, according to Amy Pfeiffer, the director of Babylon’s Office of Downtown Revitalization, which is overseeing the rezoning effort.
The town has also hired AKRF, an environmental engineering firm based in Manhattan, to carry out an environmental review at the site, she said. AKRF’s fee of $160,000 will be paid with a $200,000 state grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, she said.
The consultants will spend the next few months refining the plan and hosting additional public meetings, Pfeiffer said. The possible code changes will likely go before the town board for approval by the fall.
The planners looked to precedents in the region, Dover said, such as the revitalization effort underway in nearby Wyandanch, and in even older villages like Farmingdale that sprouted up around train stations and have remade their downtowns.
“Transit-oriented development is not new to Long Island,” he said.
Pfeiffer said that the current effort to revitalize East Farmingdale builds on plans hatched some 10 years ago, during Bellone’s tenure as Babylon supervisor.
Around 2007, Bellone said, the town hired another planning consultant to produce a conceptual plan for a transit-oriented development in the hamlet.
The recession that followed was one of the factors that prevented the initiative from moving forward, Pfeiffer said.
Audience members at the presentation this month expressed mixed feelings about the looming changes coming to East Farmingdale.
“I was quite disappointed that it didn’t seem to improve our existing way of life,” longtime resident Debora Toth, 59, wrote of the proposed changes in an email.
Others expressed more optimism.
“I think it’s great what they’re planning,” said Frank Veilson, 54.
While he now lives in Manhattan, Veilson grew up in East Farmingdale and visits his mother there several nights a week.
“Younger people want to live in a downtown environment,” he said.