Babylon Town designated downtown Copiague an “Urban Renewal Area” this month, accelerating its campaign to spruce up the South Shore hamlet.
While civic leaders applaud the move, it also has left some local businesses fearful of being displaced in redevelopment efforts to come.
The designation follows a yearlong study by Babylon’s Office of Downtown Revitalization, which found “general blight” in a 35-acre area centered on Great Neck Road and Oak Street.
There, the study says, dilapidated facades, trash-strewn lots, crumbling sidewalks and “incompatible or underperforming land uses” detract from the commercial corridor along Great Neck Road that town officials see as full of potential.
Classifying downtown Copiague as an Urban Renewal Area — a label defined by New York State law — could give the town access to a range of federal and state funding to realize that potential, officials said.
It’s “another land use tool for us to bring into fruition the vision that the community put in place,” Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez said, referring to the years of input from local stakeholders on redevelopment efforts in Copiague, which included rezoning its downtown in 2015.
It’s this community involvement, Martinez said, that distinguishes those efforts from large-scale projects of planners such as Robert Moses that often displaced thousands and gave urban renewal a bad name.
“We don’t move unilaterally,” Martinez said.
Still, Michael Rikon, a Manhattan-based attorney who specializes in eminent domain, said the Urban Renewal Area label often indicates that a municipality wants to relocate existing land uses — in this case, businesses.
“I would be very concerned” about the prospect of displacement, Rikon said.
Mario Malinowski shares this concern.
The Lindenhurst resident owns an auto repair shop on Marconi Boulevard, a street singled out by the study for car-centric, industrial businesses “antithetical to the goals of establishing a walkable, pedestrian-oriented downtown.”
“The community could largely realize the same benefit if these uses were located further from the downtown,” the study said.
While he hopes to stay put, Malinowski said he’d be open to relocating if he could remain in Copiague.
“But it would probably hurt me if I move farther away,” he said. “I would lose some of my clientele.”
Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said the town may ask businesses to move, but he’s disinclined to seize properties through eminent domain.
“I wouldn’t support any effort to take property or do something that the property owner didn’t want to do,” he said.
Some civic leaders say they wouldn’t mind an aggressive approach.
“Marconi Boulevard needs a total overhaul,” said Sharon Fattoruso, the president of the Copiague Chamber of Commerce.
“Whatever the town can do to revitalize that area, I think it’s a plus,” she said.
The town’s ideas for the area will be specified in an “urban renewal plan” to be completed this year, officials said.