The Wyandanch LIRR station in September 2018.

The Wyandanch LIRR station in September 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul is envisioning new neighborhoods of apartments within walking distance of rail stations along the Long Island Rail Road, New York City subways and other train lines to create vibrant communities of "transit-centered development" statewide.

The project would help develop homes for people who could walk to their rail commute in neighborhoods with a mix of residential and commercial offerings and little need for the expense and hassle of automobiles and parking. The "transit-oriented development" in Hochul’s State of the State proposal would address two of the major goals in her 2022 agenda: Increase housing availability to reduce residential costs and traffic in New York City and the suburbs, and reduce automobile exhaust that contributes to global warming.

"Long Island, as you well know, is a very, very expensive place for homeownership," Hochul said Tuesday. "Many of the individuals who grew up on Long Island don’t have the chance to live in the same neighborhood where they were children and went to school because of the price of housing.

"So, from Long Island all the way up to Buffalo and Plattsburgh and certainly the five boroughs, affordable housing is important to us," she said.

The state could provide funding to aid developers who want to pursue the idea, as it has for many housing initiatives. Hochul also said the state would help expedite changes in local ordinances, such as zoning restrictions and building permits.

Details are expected in Hochul’s budget address Tuesday.

Hochul pointed to redevelopment at the Wyandanch station as one of the examples of how the idea works.

There, a 94-unit housing complex for seniors and a 90,000-square-foot health and wellness center are near completion with another phase of development planned to follow in the 23-acre Geiger Park. State funding supported the development.

"These are areas where people don’t have to have a vehicle to get to work," Hochul said. "They can live there, they can recreate there, it can be their home, but we also want to lift any restrictions and encourage localities to do this."

The Long Island Association said such neighborhoods are needed.

"Long Island lags other regions when it comes to affordable rental housing," said Matthew Cohen, president and CEO of the Long Island business group. "Increasing density near downtowns and train stations is a win-win — it attracts businesses and helps retain young professionals."

The concept has been a driving force in some projects already. In New York City, it was a primary reason for residential development in lower Manhattan and rezoning in the eastern part of midtown, said Kathryn S. Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City business group.

"Transit-oriented development has been a top priority for environmental advocates for several decades, since it concentrates residential density in locations served by public transit and reduces dependence on automobiles and, therefore, reduces our carbon footprint," Wilde told Newsday. "New Yorkers have gotten more resistant to long commutes during the pandemic, so proximity to transit today may have more value than ever."

In New York City, the MTA doesn’t have many surplus parcels near stations so this development would require the purchase of private property in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, she said. But the effort could be easier in suburbs.

"Transit-oriented development is an opportunity for the suburbs to diversify their housing options and build up their local economies around transit hubs, rather than grossly underutilizing these spaces as parking lots," Wilde said. "If the suburbs are prepared to move to more inclusive development strategies, this is the best way to do it."

The concept is working in and around cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Montreal and Vancouver.

Transit-oriented development as it’s known today began in the early 1990s "in response to the ills of car-dependent cities and lifestyles," said Robert Cervero, professor emeritus of city and regional planning at the University of California at Berkeley and author of "Transforming Cities with Transit."

"Given that COVID and its consequences (working from home) are fueling a new wave of suburbanization, it makes a lot of sense for states like New York to exploit the assets in place — under-developed land parcels around suburban rail stops — to increase housing supplies and create more sustainable (compact, mixed-use, walkable) neighborhoods," Cervero said in a statement to Newsday. "It kills multiple birds with one stone — the need for affordable housing, decarbonization of cities, land conservation, diversification of suburbia."

Hochul’s proposal also could help develop neighborhoods more than 300 miles from Manhattan, said Michael S. Cashman, supervisor of the Town of Plattsburgh.

Amtrak’s Adirondack line runs to Plattsburgh daily and connects to stations serving Albany, the Hudson Valley and Penn Station as well as Montreal to the north. While it’s 10 hours from Plattsburgh to Manhattan, the line provides a means for less-than-daily commuting and for workers on a hybrid remote schedule, while living in a lower-cost, picturesque part of the state.

"We are ready and willing to partner with New York State and private investors to advance a broad spectrum of much-needed housing options," Cashman told Newsday. He said local governments have already connected public transportation stops to serve a new 80-unit apartment complex.

Statewide, 3.2 million New Yorkers live within a half-mile of rail stations with about 1 million on Long Island, state officials said. At least 30 stations, however, are in zones that currently prohibit apartment buildings. Zoning at other stations limit multi-family housing, state officials said.

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