Sunrise Mall, already half-vacant, takes up 1.2 million square feet...

Sunrise Mall, already half-vacant, takes up 1.2 million square feet of space and sits on 77 acres, including more than 6,000 parking spaces. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Sunrise Mall in Massapequa is a prime example of what could be possible — and what could end up being a severe disappointment — as the region's shopping centers and strip malls consider their futures.

The mall's owner, Urban Edge Properties, has decided not to renew the leases of its remaining tenants, including Macy's and Dick's Sporting Goods, paving the way for future redevelopment at the site.

That seems like an incredible opportunity. Sunrise Mall, already half-vacant, takes up 1.2 million square feet of space and sits on 77 acres, including more than 6,000 parking spaces. An exciting reimagination for so much land in southeast Nassau County is required, but that's not what the mall's owners seem willing to do.

In a news release regarding the decision, Urban Edge Properties' vice president of marketing, Coleen R. Conklin, makes clear that the owners are narrowing their vision. "Conklin said the company is not considering any proposal that would seek to redevelop the site as a residential community," the release said.

How is it that housing is presumptively off the table for a prime piece of property in a county with little available land?

That, unfortunately, might come down to the political reality. Sunrise Mall sits in the Town of Oyster Bay, which long has been reticent to allow increased housing density. Since the mall's property is zoned for commercial or light industrial development, any plan that included housing would require a zoning change.

Zoning changes in Oyster Bay are often an uphill battle. Perhaps most telling were Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino's comments, when he said the town "is committed to protecting the suburban quality of life in our community."

Saladino and Sunrise Mall's owners would be wise not to close themselves off from options that could benefit the town and the region. Oyster Bay has seen development success stories that include housing; just look at Country Pointe in Plainview.

This isn't just about Sunrise. Other mall owners across Long Island have low occupancies and a need to ready plans for their land's next best use. Also in Oyster Bay sits the former Sears store in Hicksville, where development plans have stalled. Now, there's talk that Seritage, the Sears real estate spinoff, may sell itself or the Hicksville property. That land's potential is enormous; it's another opportunity that can't be lost.

As the shortage of housing of any kind on Long Island crimps our potential, retail property owners and local elected officials must consider redevelopment that includes residential construction and avoid settling for more warehouses, truck depots, or weak retail.

Long Island's elected officials, including Saladino, recently emphasized the importance of local control as they fought a state housing proposal. But even with local control, those same officials have to show they can be forward-thinking, find the right balance, and address the region's needs.

Start with Sunrise Mall. Come up with something better. And don't stop there.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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