There's been a lot of talk about the need to think big, to build big, to reopen with grand plans and big ideas.
But sometimes, making smaller moves might have an even more significant impact, both in the short term as the region emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, and in the long term.
That includes Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s plan to streamline the permitting process involved in shutting county roads to traffic. Curran noted Thursday that “at least a couple dozen” of Nassau’s downtowns stretch down a county road, including Farmingdale, Roslyn, Great Neck and Valley Stream. Previously, if a village sought to have one of those stretches closed, a complicated, bureaucratic process ensued.
Now, Curran is making it simpler for villages to close a road along their commercial centers, for additional outdoor seating and space for restaurants and other businesses, or for more pedestrian traffic.
It’s a good idea, one that towns and villages without county roads could emulate, and one that Suffolk County should consider as well.
Meanwhile, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced plans to issue an order that would allow the county health department to provide an automatic approval for restaurants to expand into outdoor dining once they receive local approval.
It’s too bad such streamlining didn’t happen long ago, and that it took a pandemic’s devastating economic impact to encourage government officials to start thinking about how to make doing business on Long Island simpler.
Think about what could happen if the Island’s multitudinous local governments took similar steps to cut the red tape that has crisscrossed and tangled Nassau and Suffolk for decades. Anything that would make reopening easier, more productive, and more economically successful should be considered permanently.
These changes could have a long-lasting, positive effect on Long Island’s economy — and it’s likely that municipalities will learn quickly that much of the bureaucracy they’ve created and taxed property owners to support was unnecessary.
Town supervisors, for instance, already suggest that services that have moved online should stay online, and that being able to pay for items like beach passes on a drive-thru basis will remain in place. They’ve also discussed continuing some meetings on platforms like Zoom. That could be a way to get more residents involved, and save time and money, too.
Such simplifying efforts should extend to the development world as well. If there are ways to make site plan, zoning and other approvals easier and faster as we build in the months to come, towns and villages should make it happen. Among what’s possible: combining planning and zoning meetings, or putting more definitive time frames on the process.
County, town and village officials have a chance to learn from one another. They’ll likely find that even amid such a difficult situation, there’s an opportunity to think differently about the way Long Island always has operated. Even the smallest of changes could make a big difference in the months and years to come.
— The editorial board