Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer acknowledges that developing East Farmingdale’s Route 110 corridor is a priority. He says the area presents an important opportunity for growth. He adds that he’s “not looking to stop development altogether.”
Then why would the town government he controls make the very short-sighted and extremely unfortunate decision to throw out its plans to transform 109 acres around the Route 110 and Conklin Street intersection into a walkable community with plenty of needed rental housing and space for restaurants, retail and commercial development?
Babylon officials have been working for eight years on a plan to rezone the area, now known mostly for big-box retail, industrial space and a lack of neighborhood identity. Instead of Babylon joining other communities that have injected economic vigor into lackluster areas, Schaffer just backpedaled. The town could have established a zoning code to enable more cohesive planning and permit as many as 2,700 apartments in an area that needs such housing desperately.
Babylon’s consulting firm met often with civic associations and residents throughout the process, and had changed its proposals to accommodate concerns about building height and levels of residential development.
The town’s step backward means it will opt for a parcel-by-parcel approach, starting with land north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It will be a way to test what the community will embrace, Schaffer says. He says the town will still look to create a more cohesive zone, albeit with fewer apartments per acre and less height than originally proposed, perhaps by next spring. For now, though, there seems to be little urgency.
Beyond poor judgment, there may be an even darker motive, the constant question of politics. After all, one of the biggest and earliest proponents of East Farmingdale’s development, someone who started much of this process, is Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, with whom Schaffer has feuded. Schaffer says developing the area is more important than any political battle. Let’s hope so.
Development in East Farmingdale is key to the potential reopening of the Long Island Rail Road stop at Republic Airport, long seen as crucial to local economic growth, especially with the completion of the double track to Ronkonkoma. Development is also tied to the airport itself, the Route 110 corridor and the future of Long Island as a whole.
Babylon needs a public strategy and timetable for how to move forward and establish a zone that allows development while addressing community concerns. It is possible to develop East Farmingdale into a vibrant economic center.
But to get something meaningful done in Babylon requires leadership, ingenuity and a willingness to push beyond the community’s typical desire to avoid change. So far, Schaffer hasn’t met that standard.
— The editorial board