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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: The war of words against local development

Let's turn down the rhetoric, and stop grounding

Let's turn down the rhetoric, and stop grounding proposals on the rocky shoals of words. Photo Credit: IStock

As Long Island's development wars rage on, I'm struck by the language being used. No, not curses and muttered epithets, though you can hear each at public meetings. I'm thinking of the buzzwords that have defined the debate, words wielded like cudgels, words that everyone "understands" so well they require no further explanation.

Except that, often, they do.

Herewith, a glossary:

Density -- The dreaded D word. As in: This project has way too much density. It's used frequently, but on its own is not enough to win an argument. Context -- in this case, location -- matters. Putting a dense housing development far from public transportation, adequate roads or essential services is silly. Building it in a decaying downtown near a train station is not.

Another problem with the density label: Who really understands it? For most of us, evaluating whether 280 town homes on 30 acres is too dense is merely a guess, and usually not an educated one. Zoning codes and impact statements play a part, too.

Affordable -- As in: housing. It's the only word more loathed than "density." Critics hear "affordable" and conjure an invasion of the poor, Section 8 vouchers and, the hoariest of buzzwords, "Queens." As in: If I wanted to live in Queens, I would have stayed there. It is code for bias, and there is no more polarizing word in development debate-speak.

The problem is that we need this type of housing. Too many people of various means are being priced out. It's time to substitute that phrase with this: housing that's affordable. Think of the son or daughter living in your basement, or your senior parents scratching by on a fixed income. That's who needs it.

Traffic -- As in: There will be too much. And there is too much in many places. But this word has been overused. Building one restaurant, for example, no matter how popular, is not going to make a whit of difference to traffic on Hempstead Turnpike or Middle Country Road or any number of clogged arteries.

Sure, cars were backed up at the Sonic in North Babylon and the Dairy Queen in Massapequa after both ballyhooed franchises opened. But it didn't take long before the lines disappeared and each was just another restaurant on a busy strip.

Also, traffic is not solely a function of the number of people in a development. Working folks will leave and return at the worst times. If they're walking to the local train station, no problem. If they're driving, yes, they'll make things worse. But if they're retired, they're going to venture out only when the coast is clear.

Transient -- Used, disparagingly, to describe a renter who has "no stake in the community." It was even employed to describe those who would have paid up to $4,000 a month at a since-blocked luxury complex in Island Park. That was ludicrous. Long Island has a desperate need for rentals. They typically are occupied, at all price levels, as quickly as they're built. They were a steppingstone to home ownership for many of us, and the housing of choice for people of more limited means. Brandishing unfortunate labels doesn't negate those needs.

I'm not saying there are not legitimate complaints to some proposed projects. And I'm not in favor of all development.

But Long Island is plagued with poorly planned projects, residential and commercial. We're not going to develop ourselves out of the mess. We're also kidding ourselves if we think development is not going to be part of the solution.

We have to do some things, and we have to do them differently. Or we'll continue to stagnate. So let's turn down the rhetoric, and stop grounding proposals on the rocky shoals of words.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.