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Regional Planning Council says pandemic may force Long Island to rethink land use

Pedestrians in downtown Farmingdale on June 13.

Pedestrians in downtown Farmingdale on June 13. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Downtown Farmingdale has thrived by attracting new apartments and businesses to the village, but as the coronavirus pandemic persists and alters housing preferences and office work, two new studies suggest that communities on Long Island may need to alter land-use permits to accommodate future residential developments, retail and work spaces.

The Long Island Regional Planning Council retained consulting firm 4ward Planning Inc., which presented its findings Tuesday during a meeting. The first study provided an economic and fiscal impact analysis of Farmingdale, while the other looked at land-use impacts in the 36 months after COVID-19 subsides.

Farmingdale’s growth is attributable to different factors, said Todd Poole, president of 4ward Planning Inc. That includes the village adopting downtown mixed-use zoning in 2011; infrastructure improvements, such as expanding surface parking near the business district; clarifying with private investors what’s needed to open a business; and planning events through partnerships with local civics and businesses to attract visitors.

"Obviously because of COVID-19 and the economic tumult that we currently find ourselves in, many of these same businesses are struggling," Poole said during his presentation. "But I will say this … the restaurant, the food service business has been a major boon to commercial or to downtown revitalization. …"

Poole said the study also took into account the renovation of the LIRR Farmingdale station, a sports complex unveiled by the school district and $2.1 million in school property tax revenue generated over six years by half a dozen residential projects containing 323 units, which include affordable housing.

The fiscal and economic success of Farmingdale mirrors that of Patchogue, Poole said. A study presented in December 2018 by 4ward Planning Inc. found that Patchogue generated $693 million in economic growth from 2000 to 2017, which included construction, downtown business operations and nonlocal household spending.

The second study analyzed how land uses on the Island are likely to change as vacancies in downtowns like Farmingdale may rise because of the economic impact from COVID-19. Poole said there will likely be a growth in "pop-up" restaurant activity for an interim period, as former chefs and restaurateurs offer a periodic dining experience. Zoning will have to adapt to a growing demand for live-work housing, as people may not return to an office space and may need to use a second room as a work space.

John Cameron, chairman of the regional planning council, said he’s "cautiously optimistic" downtowns will thrive again post-pandemic.

"I think the downtowns will return, the restaurants will, but if you’re going to see new construction I think you are going to have something like commercial establishments on your first floor and residentials on the second, third and fourth," Cameron said.

In May, Newsday looked at Farmingdale and similar communities in its "Downtowns Deflated: Small businesses vs. COVID-19" series and found that the virus has challenged businesses’ ability to survive the pandemic.

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said restaurant and pub owners he’s talked to said they need to have approximately 70% to 75% capacity to break even.

"We’ve virtually gotten rid of parking tickets because we want people to come down and enjoy [because] the economy is hurting," Ekstrand said.

2 KEY STUDY POINTS

  • Since 2012, 35 businesses have opened in the downtown.
  • Zoning must adapt to the growing demand for live-work housing.

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