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Editorial: Don't forget Stony Brook 'college town' idea

Stony Brook railroad station adjacent to route 25A.

Stony Brook railroad station adjacent to route 25A. (Jan. 7, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

It's time for Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine to have some fun.

After winning a special election to succeed Mark Lesko -- who left to lead Accelerate Long Island, an economic development organization -- Romaine took office on Nov. 26.

His first month brought the messy task of managing the town landfill through mountains of Sandy debris. In the year ahead, he'll have the constant chore of living within the unpleasant budget that Lesko left him. Another unfinished Lesko task is negotiating a protection plan for the Carmans River.

So Romaine might as well embrace two big Lesko ideas that have immense legacy-leaving potential: transit-oriented development projects at both the Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road stations. The master developer for the Ronkonkoma Hub, Tritec Real Estate, is already in negotiation with owners in Ronkonkoma, to assemble the land needed to create a real mixed-use downtown.

But in Stony Brook, where the town and Stony Brook University want to put together a real college town for the university's 24,000 students, efforts to explain the plan are running into fear. Those dreaded words, "eminent domain," have popped up, even though the university and the town have no plans to condemn land in the process.

It's indisputable that there's little for students right outside the campus. They can use a small group of stores near the station, or take a bus to bustling Port Jefferson. But a great university needs a real college town: stores, apartments above, and other uses. So Lesko and the university's president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., launched this idea.

Romaine -- a skillful politician who knows how to get things done -- could do a lot to work with the community, calm its fears, and help its leaders to see the value of this plan -- not only to the university, but to its neighbors.

Far more than the gritty but necessary tasks of managing budget and weather crises, getting this college town built would be a memorable summation of Romaine's stay in Town Hall.