The early morning air is broiling, but a light breeze blows on the elevated platform of the Lindenhurst train station. It’s soothing, as you take in the view.
You can see a lot up there.
Mike Lavorata, the village mayor, points to a large property pitched for redevelopment on one side of the tracks, a closed Waldbaum’s on the other, and a number of vacant or rundown parcels scattered in between.
“Something is going to happen here. Why not make it something that’s good for us?” he says. “If we don’t act soon, we’ll be the land time forgot.”
It’s a belief that increasingly haunts places like Lindenhurst.
Officials and residents alike see what’s been happening around Long Island. Communities like Patchogue, Farmingdale, Mineola, Riverhead and Ronkonkoma have remade or are in the process of revitalizing their downtowns. They pulse with energy and promise.
Lavorata says Lindenhurst’s young people have been moving away, and its residents go to Babylon and Farmingdale for a night out. Too many commercial buildings are vacant.
It’s frustrating. It’s slow death. And Lavorata knows it.
“Are we serious enough as a community to want to move forward?” he asks. “If we are, people will get excited about Lindenhurst.”
Getting people excited about making change has always been an issue. But even that is changing.
Sure, residents at hearings on new downtown zoning made the usual grumbles about the usual things — traffic, density, heights of buildings not yet erected. But more residents are on board. They complain — about what Lindenhurst has become. Like the woman who told a crowded meeting last month that the village is a “ghost town.”
Lavorata, a village board member since 2004, became mayor in March. He’s an engineer — good training for his new gig. He, new board member RJ Renna and new administrator Doug Madlon have been “glued at the hip,” Lavorata says, as they plan the turnaround.
The linchpin is a proposal from Tritec Real Estate, which played an important role in Patchogue’s revival and is undertaking the remaking of the Ronkonkoma Hub. Tritec wants to build 260 units of multifamily housing across from the Lindenhurst train station, three blocks from Wellwood Avenue, the village’s main artery. Downtown businesses are mostly on board. More foot traffic means more business.
More subtle changes already are underway. New green gooseneck lights adorn some buildings on Wellwood. Woodcut store signs sport the same green and gold letters. Some storefronts showcase stucco and stone tile. A popular Babylon bar is opening a location in an old bank, a grocery story might go into a shuttered CVS. New restaurants are coming. The board has hired a grant writer to seek downtown development funds.
One thing that won’t change: diagonal parking on Wellwood. It’s classic New England quaint, but switching to parallel parking would eliminate more than 40 spots, and you need parking to be competitive, Madlon says. He’s right. The village is buying three rundown properties one block from Wellwood for a new lot.
It’s interesting to watch a community seek a new identity. But makeovers aren’t easy. Patchogue didn’t happen overnight. And no one wants to lose the feeling of community that shone through, Renna says, in the way residents rallied to support each other after superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in 2012.
“Sometimes that gets lost in the development issue,” Lavorata says. “We’re walking on eggshells looking for that balance.”
He looks west now, toward the tops of the buildings that line Wellwood. It’s an interesting view.
Look one way and all you see is challenges. Look another, there’s only opportunity.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.