The following is a response to a piece by Warren Strugatch entitled LI has Become the BANANA Republic in the Long Island Business News on 10/27/11. His piece can be read here:

I respect Mr. Strugatch’s varied experience in communications, but feel that his analysis of Long Island’s current, as well as past planning milieu is wildly off target. 

In his piece, Mr. Strugatch asserted that Long Island’s post-war planning community “ignored” the growing pains. This is simply not the case. The methodologies of Long Island’s past planners are not the cause of Long Island’s current problems. In fact, there are a growing number in the profession who feel that planning on Long Island should look to past methods. 

Mr. Strugatch was so quick to dismiss the efforts of the two previous generations of planning, that he failed to mention the various groundbreaking comprehensive studies, plans and policies that they crafted. In July of 1978, the Long Island Regional Planning board completed the Long Island Comprehensive Waste Treatment Management Plan (which was prepared pursuant to Section 208, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, giving the study the title of “the 208 Study”). This was the first hydrogeologic study of Long Island, and was based upon the best scientific data and methodologies available at the time. 

Using the 208 Study as a foundation, the state passed in 1987 the New York State Sole Source Aquifer Special Groundwater Protection Areas Law, and the LIRPB in 1992 crafted the article 55-based Long Island Comprehensive Special Groundwater Protection Area Study, which mapped out Long Island’s deep aquifer recharge zones. The SGPA Plan continues to shape land use policy on Long Island to this day.

Dr. Koppelman was correct in stating to Mr. Strugatch that “Smart Growth is such a stupid term”, and many other respected planners across Long Island feel similarly.

I’d like to remind Mr. Strugatch that the notion of creating livable, walkable downtowns is not a new or innovative concept. In the 1970 Comprehensive Regional Plan for Nassau and Suffolk Counties, there was a call for the creation of “Corridors, Clusters and Centers”, which had all the properties of “smart growth”. In fact, previous comprehensive plans from the 1970s and 80s went beyond “smart growth” in its calls for open space preservation and strict maximum densities defined by hydrogeologic conditions.

The Ronkonkoma Hub was cited by Mr. Strugatch as an example of “New Urbanist design”, but in reality the hub is a project that has been in the works since the electrification of the LIRR Mainline in the 1980s, a project initially designed by first and second generation planners on Long Island. Supervisor Lesko’s efforts to implement form based zoning should be applauded, but supporters of “smart growth” cannot take credit for Ronkonkoma’s rebirth.

It is understandable why there is such a following to this New Urbanist thought because in theory, “smart growth” sounds great. The reality is much different. Often times, developers brand their projects as “smart growth”, and do not factor in the carrying capacity of Long Island’s aquifer, or the levels of service of arterial roads. The good intentions of the community mutate into a developer drastically driving densities above as-of-right yield. In return for this increase in density, the public gets no true community benefits (for example, equivalent open space to offset the density increases) for this gifting of the public’s wealth by the municipality. New town centers branded as “smart growth” by developers, such as Heartland Town Square or the Meadows at Yaphank wholly ignore the concept of revitalization by creating new population and density centers grossly above as-of-right yield. In practice, “smart growth” is nothing more than a brand without any standardization or merit behind the title.

Mr. Strugatch is correct in asserting that there must be a change in the way Long Islanders look at planning. What he is grossly incorrect in is his championing of “smart growth”. If anything is to be supported, is the invocation of a planning process that is both community-based, and driven by the best science available. Buzzwords and density giveaways are not a viable nor sustainable solution.