Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth in Melville on Monday. Smyth's listening sessions...

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth in Melville on Monday. Smyth's listening sessions will give residents, businesses and others a chance to voice their ideas and concerns on future development of the Melville/Route 110 area. Credit: James Carbone

As office building vacancies have gone up since the pandemic with remote and hybrid work schedules likely here to stay, Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth is exploring how to redevelop Melville's Route 110 corridor in light of the change in business practices.

Topping the list of ideas is the construction of mixed-use developments with commercial businesses on the ground floor and residential units above in what are now office parks. 

The area needs to be reimagined, Smyth told Newsday. The supervisor is scheduling listening sessions to gather input from residents, businesses, first responders and others who would be most impacted by development in the area.

“The purpose of these meetings is to create a new plan based on current needs, especially post-pandemic,” Smyth said Friday. The next session is Thursday.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth's listening sessions will focus on the future development of the Melville/Route 110 area.
  • Topping the list of ideas is the construction of mixed-use developments in what are now office parks.
  • Thursday's listening session will be at 7 p.m. at the RXR Building, 68 South Service Rd., Melville.

The 110 corridor has the largest concentration of office space in Suffolk County and has a mix of residential, commercial and industrial zoning.

Reports show that overall vacancy rate for office space in western Suffolk, which includes the Route 110 corridor, increased just under .4%. The vacancy rate was 17.2% in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared with 16.8% in the first quarter of the year, according to a report from Cushman & Wakefield, which analyzes quarterly economic and commercial real estate activity. 

“The big concern is what is the economic viability of these office parks going forward for the next five to seven years,” Smyth said. And, if they are not economically viable, "what use can we permit on these properties."

Melville Employment Center plan

In 2016, the Melville Employment Center plan was adopted to help the area remain competitive as a major employment hub in the region and to advance the goals and objectives of Horizons 2020, the town's overall comprehensive plan adopted in 2008.

At its December 2021 monthly meeting, the Huntington Town Board failed to approve three measures under the Melville plan that would have impacted development in the area, including establishing an  overlay district to allow a mix of construction, from multifamily housing, retail and professional offices to food establishments for properties zoned for light industry 1 and light industry 2 under town code.

Impacts on the community

Among stakeholders who would be affected by any redevelopment is the Half Hollow Hills Central School District.

Asked about Smyth's tour, Patrick Harrigan, superintendent of schools for the district, said in an email, "We're pleased that the town is looking closely at any new developments and being thoughtful about how best to move forward." He added, "We value that they are communicating with school districts about any changes and working with their constituents to gather input."

The Melville Fire Department is also likely to be impacted by redevelopment in the area.

  Phillip Foundos, chair of the Melville Fire Commissioners, second...

Phillip Foundos, chair of the Melville Fire Commissioners, second from left, said he is taking a wait-and-see approach on Smyth's plans. With Foundos are members of the Melville Fire Department. Credit: Johnny Milano

Phillip Foundos, chair of the Melville Fire Commissioners, aired concerns at the December 2021 board meeting about the impact that proposed zoning changes would have on the fire department's staffing, call volume, response times and costs. But he said Friday he is taking a wait-and-see approach on Smyth's plans. 

Generally, he said, office buildings are only occupied for about eight hours during the day, but if there is going to be a substantial increase in housing in the area, the department would need staffing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“That means more personnel, probably hiring personnel, because the volunteers can only cover so much,” Foundos said.

Civic group shares concerns

Johanna S. Suchow, an acting board member of the Sweet Hollow Civic Association, which includes six civic organizations in Melville, said she and her co-members expect the town to include them in sessions and decisions on redevelopment. She said mixed-use developments could be a reasonable proposal.

“If done properly, mixed-use developments could create a heart, a center, for our community that it doesn’t have right now,” she said. “But that’s a big if because it’s not clear what is going to be proposed.”   

Smyth’s tour coincides with calls by Gov. Kathy Hochul to address housing needs across the state. 

The governor's plan requires towns and villages to increase housing units by 3% over three years. Long Island town officials, including Smyth, said Hochul's plan to add 800,000 housing units statewide in the next decade would encroach upon their ability to set local zoning rules.

Smyth said any decisions for the area will need to offer sustainability, from an infrastructure, fire department, traffic and mass transit standpoint. 

'Ripe for development'

Mike Florio, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said Melville is an example of an area that is ripe for mixed-use development.

He said Smyth’s listening sessions are an opportunity to educate the public on redevelopment options.

“Over the last decade or so, the mindset of Long Islanders is a little more open to development than in the past. It used to be an automatic no; now it’s like, ‘let’s consider this,’ ” he said. 

Smyth said the message he wants to convey is that there is no preconceived notion of what’s going to be done.

“The one thing I’ve said to everybody: if you’re here to say no redevelopment at all you’re in the wrong room, and if you’re here to say we need maximum high rise 50-story buildings, you’re in the wrong room also.”

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