Long Island took two giant steps forward in the past 10 days.
The Long Island Rail Road’s third-track project and the Heartland Town Square development received separate approvals. These plans with multibillion-dollar price tags have immense potential. Getting Long Island’s transportation and housing right sets the stage for more progress in other areas, like economic growth, jobs and quality of life.
Both projects kicked around for years and faced strong local resistance, typical for Long Island. But proponents persevered and won. That’s not typical. At least, not until recently.
Something good is happening here. The notion that the region must change to thrive seems to finally be taking root.
That’s what brought an unusual mix of hundreds of business leaders, union members, environmentalists and progressive activists to Woodbury Wednesday to celebrate Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s declaration that Long Island is moving forward.
The Land of No has now said yes to several large mixed-use projects that will change how Long Islanders live, from Garvies Point in Glen Cove to the Wyandanch Rising and Ronkonkoma Hub redevelopments, all underway or about to break ground. The LIRR’s building of a second track from Ronkonkoma to Farmingdale is slated for completion next summer, 16 months ahead of schedule. Across Long Island, it has been village mayors and their boards that have provided the leadership to undertake exciting remakes of their downtowns, especially those with LIRR stations. Others are eager to join this 21st century bold rush.
These leaders have shown courage in standing up to fearful and angry NIMBY voices, and have displayed wisdom by recognizing that Long Islanders increasingly see that more intense development in parts of suburbia for those who want an urban lifestyle doesn’t diminish the suburban lifestyle in the rest of the region for those who want that. We can have both. And we need both.
Now Long Island will be better positioned to compete with Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey for the talented young workers critical to the region’s future, workers who make decisions not only on the basis of the jobs they seek but also the lifestyles they want.
Projects still must be completed and done properly. Heartland is a good example. The Islip Town Board approved only its first phase, but that’s enormous — 3,500 apartments and 600,000 square feet of office space and retail on 113 acres in Brentwood. And though the vote Tuesday received applause from a standing-room-only crowd, the truck outside bearing messages demanding union jobs and the workers in the room wearing union T-shirts were reminders that smooth sailing is not guaranteed. Developer Jerry Wolkoff and organized labor must work on a fair agreement, formal or informal, on wages and work conditions.
But optimism is the prevailing mood, and Cuomo captured that Wednesday. He talked about Long Island’s historic aversion to change, then noted that without change, you get stagnation. “We create our own destiny,” he said, with the choices we make.
Long Island at long last is choosing a future we can believe in.