Researchers Identify Top Ten Changes to Stimulate Downtown Redevelopment

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The Long Island Index 2011 Report: Getting It Done: Aligning Long Island’s Development Processes with Sustainable Economic Growth

Garden City, NY (January 20, 2011) – The Long Island Index 2011 report, Getting It Done: Aligning Long Island’s Development Processes with Sustainable Economic Growth, prepared by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), shows Long Island, like many suburban areas across the country, is grappling with the difficult challenge of maintaining its high quality lifestyle while adapting to new economic, demographic and environmental realities. The voice of the people comes through stronger than ever before. According to the report, Long Islanders are very worried about the problems that threaten the viability of their lifestyle such as escalating taxes, lack of affordable housing, job loss, low wages and young people leaving the region. Average pay per employee is at a 10-year low, down 3% from 2000 while over the same period, average wages in the U.S. have grown by 4%. 50% of Long Islanders say they have trouble paying their rent or mortgage. Long Islanders are hurting in many ways and voiced their frustration in responses to a telephone survey conducted by the Stony Brook University Center for Survey Research1 .When compared to neighboring suburban areas in Westchester, Northern New Jersey and Southern Connecticut, the survey found that Long Islanders are significantly more worried about the lack of affordable housing (62% of Long Islanders say that the lack of affordable housing is a serious problem compared to 34% in NJ and 46% in Westchester/Southern Connecticut) and fear young people will need to leave due to the high cost of living (75% of Long Islanders say this is a serious problem compared to 44% in NJ and 48% in Westchester/Southern Connecticut). With the smallest stock of rentals in the metropolitan region, Long Islanders have the fewest housing options to attract young people and businesses looking for workers.

The report notes that Long Island’s downtowns, linked by one of the nation’s most extensive suburban transit networks, can provide most of the housing and jobs that Long Island needs, helping to hold down property taxes with minimal changes to the Island’s existing single-family neighborhoods and open spaces. “For many years the Index has studied how our downtowns have the ability to create housing and business opportunities which is critical to driving our future economic growth,” said Nancy Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation. “Last year the Index identified 8,300 acres of potential land in over 150 downtowns and rail station areas. If we do nothing to take advantage of this tremendous potential, we lose.”

So how can we make development in our downtowns happen and how do we realize the economic potential of all these acres of opportunity? How can we build the housing we need to support the economic development we want? The Long Island Index 2011 focused on these remaining pieces of the puzzle – the planning and development review processes that should reflect community needs and facilitate appropriate development to meet these needs. To benchmark how planning and review practices in Long Island’s towns, cities and villages align with the goal of developing more vibrant, mixed-use downtowns, the Index commissioned two surveys of municipal officials by national experts in planning and downtown redevelopment. The first, by Zucker Systems2, focused on the permit review process and compared Long Island to national standards and best practices. The second, by the Weaver Research and Consulting Group3,4,5,6, examined how Long Island planning practices compared to practices that are considered supportive of well-designed downtown and transit-oriented development (TOD). The survey was sent to all towns, both cities and 29 of Long Island’s incorporated villages that have the greatest potential for downtown or transit-oriented development. All but one town and seven villages returned the surveys. Based on the survey responses, the Long Island Index developed a “Top Ten” list of planning process issues impacting downtown development. They are:

10: No two municipalities function the same.

There is tremendous variability between Long Island’s municipalities—different rules, different processes, different staffing levels, and corresponding variability in service levels and quality and timeliness of project reviews. This is a result of the complex structure of incorporated and unincorporated villages, towns, cities and counties that we have on Long Island.

9: Technology? What’s that?

We provide little to no technology either to manage the building permitting process or accept payments. Only three of the surveyed municipalities accepted online applications for development projects. And over 80% of Long Island jurisdictions accept only cash or check for fees—no credit cards. Only one jurisdiction accepts payments online.

8: How long will it take to move through the process? Who knows?

70% of jurisdictions surveyed do not set target dates for when planning reviews will be conducted. Threequarters of jurisdictions do not track review times by staff. No one knows how long it takes to complete an approval process. Timelines for project approvals and building reviews are indefinite and variable, resulting in uncertainty and costly delays that impede even the most well-designed projects.

7: We build our downtowns for cars.

Almost 75% of the jurisdictions surveyed said that their on-site parking requirements were one of the biggest impediments to downtown development. Yet communities off Long Island that have successfully re-energized their downtowns have limited parking rather than maximized it. The goal was to encourage walkability thus increasing the likelihood of retail success and creating a greater sense of place and identity.

6: We add to the cost of construction.

Less than 50% of villages and only one town offer next-day building inspections. Once construction begins, timely inspections are essential to keep projects on schedule and reduce construction costs.

5: Up-to-date comprehensive plans are essential. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of them.

On Long Island, almost 50% of villages don’t have a comprehensive plan at all and 50% of the towns and cities have an outdated plan. Comprehensive plans are essential to planners and government officials seeking to define what type of development a community wants. Without them, it’s nearly impossible to plan for the future of a community.

4: Up-to-date zoning codes go hand-in-hand with updated comprehensive plans. We could use more of them.

Nearly 50% of the jurisdictions surveyed have not comprehensively updated their zoning codes in at least ten years. Our communities are changing—through demographic shifts, economic tides, the emergence of new building practices. Without updated zoning codes, it is harder to plan for the impact of change on the community.

3: Long Island has the lowest rate of rentals in our region. No surprise since our codes make it hard or downright impossible to build them.

In 45% of the villages, rental units cannot be built without a special permit or cannot be built at all. In 70% of the villages, accessory housing is not allowed. Restrictions on multi-family and accessory units inhibit the development of workforce housing and mixed-use downtowns.

2: On Long Island, we worry that we’ll build too much. But we should be worrying that we don’t build enough.

We use density caps to focus on “how much is too much” but fail to recognize that without setting minimums of what we must have, we fail to achieve what we set out to create. Minimums and maximums need to be defined. Retail will not flourish in a downtown if you don’t have a large enough population to utilize those services. Not determining the minimum requirement means jeopardizing the vibrancy and economic success that you are striving for.

1: With a little here and a little there, we will realize only a fraction of the potential of our downtowns.

On Long Island, we tend to do things in a piecemeal fashion. Individual projects don’t relate to each other, and can’t reach the critical mass of housing and jobs that Long Island needs. We need a concerted, integrated plan that considers the needs of the community from a variety of perspectives—residents’ wishes, needs for future generations, creating an economically viable region. Without that, we’re going to end up with a new apartment building here, a new business over there, and parking everywhere.

Nassau BOCES District Superintendent and CEO Thomas Rogers remarked, “When I was living in upstate New York, I saw first-hand the positive results that can be created when a region takes on a broad economic revitalization program. Having seen it work there, I am certain that Long Island has even greater potential to improve, but needs to address the issues that hinder the development of our many assets.”

Rental housing is particularly important, both for Long Island as a whole and for the vibrancy of downtowns. In spite of this need, many communities place more restrictions on rental than owner-occupied housing. For young adults or low and moderate-income workers without the savings or income to own a home, this is a major impediment to living here.

“We recently discussed a ground-breaking plan for three major research institutions to work together to develop an innovation center on Long Island. As Senator Schumer announced last week, we are looking for federal designation that will help bring major investment dollars to our area,” said Dr. Bruce Stillman, President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “But if we can’t provide the housing the scientists need and the types of vibrant communities that young researchers want, we will face barriers to success that should not exist. As we move forward, we do not want these issues to be our Achilles’ heel.”

While it has several different labels—smart growth, sustainable development, transit-oriented development, downtown renewal—the type of development that is most likely to address the concerns expressed by Long Islanders and achieve the goals expressed by numerous community and regional vision and planning initiatives has a number of characteristics such as: 1) providing a range of housing types at different price points 2) encouraging walking, biking and transit use 3) integrating the historic fabric of the community with new buildings and public spaces and 4) providing new job opportunities, retail options and services. Each of these characteristics often faces an uphill battle in overcoming local land use and building regulations and practices. In fact, rather than threatening adjacent single-family neighborhoods, growth directed to transit-oriented developments can strengthen them by limiting growth pressures in existing neighborhoods. Encouraging a variety of commercial uses and housing types can also broaden the property tax base and help keep property taxes low. “The issues addressed by the Long Island Index are in alignment with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach to revitalize our state,” said Patrick Halpin, former Suffolk County Executive. “We have serious problems but we have significant assets that we can use to overcome them. Today, the loss of our talent, young people in their 20’s and 30’s, is killing Long Island’s future. It’s time to get the job done. The time is now. The place is downtown.”

The Rauch Foundation formally released their eighth report, The Long Island Index 2011 Report: Getting It Done: Aligning Long Island’s Development Process with Sustainable Economic Growth on Thursday, January 20 from 8 am to 10:00am at Adelphi University’s Performing Arts Center, 1 South Avenue, Garden City, NY. Speakers at the press event include: Nancy Rauch Douzinas, President, Rauch Foundation; Keynote Speakers: Thomas Rogers, District Superintendent and CEO, Nassau BOCES; Russell Albanese, President, Albanese Organization; Bruce Stillman, President, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Patrick Halpin, former Suffolk County Executive. The complete report and all the supporting surveys and research are available online at

About the Rauch Foundation: The Long Island Index is funded by the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation headquartered in Garden City, New York. In addition to funding the Long Island Index for eight years the Rauch Foundation commissioned The Long Island Profile Report and a series of six polls on Long Island to determine how the region is faring compared to other suburbs in the NY Metro area. The polls include (1) “Long Islanders: Who Are We?”, (2) “Caring for Long Island’s Children”, (3) “Room for Growth: Long Island’s Changing Economy”, (4) “Where Do We Grow From Here? Land Use on Long Island”, (5) “Regional Attitudes on Taxation and Governance”, and (6) Long Island Looks to the Future: Housing Alternatives and Downtown Development.” The Long Island Index 2004, Long Island Index 2005, Long Island Index 2006, Long Island Index 2007, Long Island Index 2008, Long Island Index 2009 and Long Island Index 2010 are all available for download at The Long Island Index interactive maps, an online resource with detailed demographic, residential, transportation and educational information, is also accessible from the Index’s website.

1.: Residential Satisfaction and Downtown Development: The View from Long Island and the NY Metro Area, November 2010, Stony Brook University Center for Survey Research
2. Long Island Government Survey: Permit Review Process and Downtown Development, January 2011, Zucker Systems
3. Long Island Government Survey: Land Use Planning Practices, January 2011, Susan Weaver, Weaver Research and Consulting Group
4. Small Community Case Study: Mission Street Revitalization, South Pasadena, CA, January 2011, Susan Weaver and Deepak Bahl, Weaver Research and Consulting Group
5. System Case Study of Chicago’s Metra Union Pacific-Northwest Line: Transit as a Catalyst for Redevelopment, January 2011, Susan Weaver and Deepak Bahl, Weaver Research and Consulting Group
6. Large Community Case Study: Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, Arlington, Virginia, January 2011, Susan Weaver, Weaver Research and Consulting Group