Nassau County is moving to help villages, towns and cities recover from the economic shutdown by allowing them to close off main corridors in some downtowns so restaurants can expand with outdoor dining, and retail shoppers can pick up merchandise on once-busy streets.
Under a plan that County Executive Laura Curran is expected to announce Thursday, municipalities can apply to close county roads that run through them, and expect a response within seven days.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, applications for road closures for events such as street fairs generally took far longer to process, and had to be mailed to three separate county agencies. Under Curran's plan, requests can be submitted online to a single department, Public Works.
Curran said road closures could occur "for maybe a weekend evening, maybe once a week, once a month over the summer."
The plan, which could be operational in a week or two, aims to encourage a "very sort of town-square kind of feeling where a community can come together and in a socially distant way, socialize and support their local business," Curran said in an interview.
County officials said the initiative could help transform highly trafficked roads in hamlets and villages in Nassau into piazza-style spaces as retailers and restaurants expand in the upcoming Phase 3 of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to reopen the state economy.
Curran's plan would require restaurants to observe social distancing by spacing out tables on sidewalks and streets.
"We’re providing that additional space, an additional canvas for these businesses to strategically find ways to operate," said Sean Sallie, a deputy county public works commissioner.
Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand called outdoor dining "a necessity, not only to keep our restaurants and pubs alive and thriving," but to relieve "the tension, the antsiness, the anxiety that the public is feeling being cooped up in their house."
Ekstrand said he shared plans with Curran for outdoor dining in the village — its Main Street is a Nassau County road — and encouraged her to imitate them in unincorporated hamlets such as Bethpage, Hicksville and Baldwin.
"You've got areas in Nassau County that have huge potential, but are dying right now,” Ekstrand said.
Sallie cited the example of a restaurant that needs to "operate at 50 percent seating capacity and maintain a six-foot minimum between tables."
Under such strictures, “they can only support a fraction of the seating" they had before the pandemic, Sallie said. Closing streets to vehicles would provide the opportunity to “recoup their loss in table capacity or seating capacity by expanding outdoors."
Curran said the pilot program is one step in revitalizing Nassau downtowns, an effort she has dubbed "Countdown to Downtown."
Of the fast-track permitting process, Curran said: "We’re trying to expedite it because summer’s here pretty much."
Some downtowns with county roads running through them:
1. East Rockaway
Atlantic Avenue; Front Street; Main Street
3. Floral Park/Stewart Manor
Covert Avenue (Floral Park/Stewart Manor)
Tulip Avenue (Floral Park)
North Main Street
5. Great Neck/Great Neck Plaza
Great Neck Road (Great Neck),
Middle Neck Road (Great Neck/Great Neck Plaza)
8. Rockville Centre
North Long Beach Road; N/S Park Avenue; N/S Village Avenue
9. Oyster Bay
E/W Main Street
10. Massapequa Park
Main Street; Old Northern Boulevard
12. Valley Stream
Source: Nassau County executive