Small-business growth in many Suffolk communities won't happen without significant, county-supported infrastructure improvements, chambers of commerce leaders told County Executive-elect Steve Bellone Monday night.
More than two dozen chamber representatives attended a roundtable discussion at a VFW hall in Kings Park, part of the Bellone transition team's topical listening tour.
Monday night's talk focused on a major component lacking in some downtowns -- sewers.
A public sewer system, which exists in some South Shore communities, but not in many of Smithtown's hamlets and villages, would encourage restaurant expansion, apartments above stores and a smoother permit approval process for both, proponents said.
"Without sewers, nothing is going to happen," said Kings Park Chamber of Commerce president Charlie Gardner. "Acknowledging it's a huge expense and a dirty word, it's critical to success in this county."
Mark Mancini, Smithtown's chamber president, told the story of a small ice cream store he said needed eight months to gain a sewage disposal permit from Suffolk's Health Department. "If you look at it from a small-business standpoint, that is a killer," he said. "In Nassau, where they're on a public sewer system, that probably takes 30 days."
Bellone, who spent most of the forum listening, said today's economy doesn't encourage major sewer system installations. Previous projects, he added, were largely funded on state and federal levels. "It means the burden will fall more on us locally," he said, noting private builders of large, mixed-use developments can contribute to sewer improvements. "If we are making sewer investments, it has to be tied to economic development plans."
Bellone said he'll be an advocate for smart planning on the town level, offering resources and encouragement for transit-oriented developments to keep young professionals on Long Island. But he also encouraged local chamber leaders to work together.
"If we want to protect our local communities," he said, "we have to understand there are some things we can only do as a region."