When families move to the suburbs, it comes with expectations of a quiet neighborhood, good schools, and low crime, among other things. Last November, voters on Long Island expressed their concerns about crime by electing Republicans on federal, state, and local levels, in protest of bail reform passed by Democratic lawmakers in Albany.
Having narrowly secured her reelection, Gov. Kathy Hochul rolled out a plan to address the housing shortage by imposing denser development, aiming to build 800,000 units in New York City and its suburbs.
“Local governments can meet these targets any way they want,” she said in her State of the State address on January 9. “They can shape building capacity. They can redevelop old malls or buildings, office parks, incentivize new housing production, or just update the zoning rules to reduce the barriers.”
But when communities refuse to allow for greater density and “have not made good-faith efforts to grow when proposed housing projects are languishing for no legitimate reason, the state will implement a fast-track approval process.”
Across Nassau County, its towns and villages, local leaders regard her proposal as a threat to overrule local authorities. Politically, this proposal is certain to further alienate suburban voters.
“This Housing Plan is a direct attack on our suburban neighborhoods as it would overcrowd classrooms, greatly increase traffic and cars parked on our streets, strain emergency services, and threaten the environment. This should upset every Long Islander and New Yorker for a long list of reasons,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in a statement. “While some Albany leaders want to blame housing for the mass migration leaving our State, we all know the real reason people are fleeing New York is crushing taxes, rising crime, and government overreach, which threatens individual rights.”
In West Hempstead, the rising cost of housing is being addressed with development adjacent to its train station. In 2012, a 150-unit building opened on the site of the former Courtesy Hotel. Across the street, the massive parking lot of the shuttered National Wholesale Liquidators is scheduled for a set of apartments, as is the former Western Beef supermarket on Woodfield Road. All three developments have the support of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, because they are within walking distance to a train station and bus stops, with ample parking and amenities.
Along Hempstead Avenue, there is also room for growth above the storefronts, and on long-vacant commercial properties. At the corner of Maplewood Street and Hempstead Avenue, there are three unused properties: a laundromat, Dairy Barn, and a bank, with parking lots. Across the street, the parking lot of the Wing Wan Chinese restaurant is never filled to capacity and could also accommodate a new development. Such modest proposals may not meet the governor’s mandate, and before any shovels hit the ground, the State must answer whether Long Island’s infrastructure could handle the influx. Unlike the city, communities in Nassau County receive their water from the underground aquifer. It is a limited supply that comes with a higher cost for consumers. Fire prevention services are run by volunteers and are chronically short on staff, as people devote more time to earning a living during the day. The railroad line in West Hempstead runs on one track, at best with only one train each hour, and most of the rides require a transfer at Valley Stream to reach the city. Woodfield Road has only one traffic light on a mile-long stretch and has been plagued with accidents involving cars and pedestrians.
Democrats and Republicans have their differences, but locally they stand united in opposition to the governor’s plan. This Sunday, I will be hosting Hewlett resident Jake Schneiner, a Democrat who is running for the County Legislature in the district that covers West Hempstead, Lynbrook, Hewlett, and East Rockaway. Born to parents who fled the Soviet Union, he became active in pro-Israel advocacy at AIPAC and as a staffer for Rep. Tom Suozzi. Schneiner will be speaking about keeping taxes low, supporting the police, and other issues where there is consensus among Long Island voters. Among these issues is preserving the character of the suburbs, and when new homes are built, that the utilities and transportation networks can handle the growth.
By Sergey Kadinsky