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Babylon considers zoning changes that could revitalize Copiague's downtown

A 35-acre swath of parking lots and low-slung industrial and retail buildings within walking distance of the Copiague Long Island Rail Road station could be transformed under rezoning for mixed use and greater density that the Babylon Town Board will consider this spring, town officials said.

The board will take a significant step in the approval process Wednesday with a public hearing on a study of possible environmental impacts of development. A draft of the study, posted on the town website, anticipates that rezoning would increase traffic and demand for municipal services such as fire and schools, but also bring more growth and a brighter economic future for an area the town's own planning consultants have described as desolate.

"There's a trend of seeing young people preferring to live in downtown areas," said Jonathan Keys, director of the town's Office of Downtown Revitalization. "We're cognizant of that trend and want to be a part of it."

One possible build out scenario envisioned by the draft, based in part on resident input from the 2009 Copiague Vision Plan, is $144 million worth of construction in the area over the next decade.

Under the scenario, residential units and retail space would grow roughly fourfold to 420 units and 245,064 square feet of retail, housed in buildings of up to four stories. More than 96,000 square feet of industrial space would be converted to other uses, and park space -- including Veterans' Memorial Park -- would be greatly expanded.

Buildings with five or more residential units would contain 20 percent designated as affordable housing. The pedestrian experience on thoroughfares such as Great Neck Road would include buildings constructed closer to the street and parking pushed to the rear.

"The market's there," said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a Northport-based smart-growth planning organization that is not affiliated with the Copiague effort. But he cautioned that several elements would need to be in place for a full revival of the area.

"Safety and security, parks, the right mix of small businesses, a sense of community spirit . . . It's not just about putting housing close to transit," he said.

Rather than employ a master developer, officials would instead rely on zoning incentives, infrastructure improvements and a streamlined approval process to spur development.

In some ways, said town spokesman Kevin Bonner, town officials envision a corrective to suburban growth trends of the past century.

"There were big setbacks, parking lots in front of businesses," he said. "Everybody had two cars and drove from place to place. Now we're trying to get away from that."

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