Stony Brook residents hoping to transform a stagnant business district near the state university campus have heard some fresh ideas from people who know the area well: the college's students.
About two dozen residents gathered Monday at the Bates House in Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket to hear presentations by Stony Brook University students, who had developed recommendations for the 1-mile stretch of state Route 25A during an urban planning course. The project served as the students' final exam.
The students outlined four proposals, including short-range, medium-range and long-range plans for modernizing the commercial strip, which features a Long Island Rail Road station, small shops, fast-food restaurants and a gas station.
For the students, it was a chance to apply their lessons to a real-world example of an area in need of renewal. For residents, it was an opportunity to consider new ideas for an antiquated strip of small businesses.
"We would like for it to be a little more inviting to lure the people who work or study on campus into the community," said Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook. "We definitely would like to see a better integration between the campus and the town."
Nuzzo, 38, who received a bachelor's degree from the university last year, worked with his former professor, Donovan Finn, who teaches environmental design, policy and planning, to create the unique campus-community partnership.
Last December, Finn's students presented their findings to residents. This week, they offered specific recommendations such as farmers markets, renewed crosswalks and signage, and other upgrades.
David Viana, 20, a junior from Baldwin, said the district is "not necessarily very well planned," noting that a new sidewalk was built across the street from the shops. And part of the problem, students and residents said, is that the LIRR station divides the university campus from the rest of the community.
"It's like a real iron curtain," said Cynthia R. Barnes, president of the Three Village Community Trust, which hosted Monday's forum.
One group of students recommended building a berm that would form a bridge between the campus and community. Several presentations recommended mixed-use development, solar panels and measures to slow traffic and increase parking. Viana's group suggested enhanced marketing and more vibrant signs promoting Stony Brook.
"It's basically just to create an environment where people can socialize . . . and maintain that downtown village feel," Viana said.
Janelle March, 21, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, said it was a challenge for students, who use the commercial strip at night, to develop ideas that would appeal to year-round residents who use it during the day.
Barnes said she hoped to continue hearing students' suggestions for reimagining the neighborhood's future.
"I think it's really important to have the college students," she said. "Maybe we can make this a real college town."