Development is coming to Plainview.

Given the current zoning, what’s on the table may be the lesser of two evils.

The proposal being set forth by the Beechwood Organization, called Country Pointe at Plainview, calls for an 890-unit, gated community along with 118,450 square feet of retail use. The parcel, located off of Round Swamp Road and Old Country Road, totals 143 acres.

The site was recently slated for development in 2007, but the proposal was withdrawn amid community opposition over traffic and density concerns. With the current proposal, Beechwood wants to set aside about 40 acres as open and recreational space for the town. Eight-hundred of the housing units will be age-restricted, with the remaining 90 being considered “affordable” senior living.

The project will have a significant impact on the local infrastructure due to it’s size and scope. The density is significant, even with most of the wastewater impacts being mitigated by Nassau’s existing sewer infrastructure. However, there is no reason why smart development at the site cannot happen that balances the region’s environmental, social and economic needs.

The big “carrot on the stick” on the retail side of things is the construction of a new ShopRite on the site to replace the current store’s location. It was a smart move by Beechwood to set up tables at the existing Plainview ShopRite and speak with residents during the peak weekend rush. While a crowded grocery store on a weekend is not the best forum for a nuanced land-use discussion with the public, Beechwood was at least showing a presence in the community. As always, sound planning starts with opening up the process to the public.

The proposal is big, but the alternative is almost equal in size.

Here’s the catch: According to the New York Times, the as-of-right zoning, or the use that the town will currently allow, is up to 420,000 square feet in two large office buildings along with 45 single-family homes, and 40 acres of open space. Either way, it seems that development of some sort will move ahead on this parcel. What it boils down to is what’s “worse” for the residents: a large residential development or a large office building (or two)?

The last proposal, by Charles Wang’s Renaissance Properties, called for 660 units of attached condominiums and rental apartments, a hotel with a spa, office buildings, shops, and 37 acres of open space and walking trails. Wang shifted course in 2007 and proposed building as-of-right. In the piece, the Times wrote:

But Paul Lancey, senior vice president of Mr. Wang’s development firm, Renaissance Properties, said that although opponents might now be happy about the withdrawal of the Old Plainview plan, they will ultimately regret it.

“They lost,” Mr. Lancey said. “At the end of the day, they won the battle and lost the war. Now they’re going to get potentially big office space, and do they really need that?”

Is it really the greatest use to build as-of-right out of spite? There has to be better options for one of the largest tracts of land in the county.

A Rare Opportunity

Its interesting to see Nassau County residents push back against development, which typically is a very “Suffolk” thing to do. Being from Suffolk County, it is especially interesting to see Nassau’s residents voice concern over density and traffic. The simple fact is that since much of Nassau is already built out, there is limited opportunity for redevelopment. When the opportunity comes to redevelop tracts of land west of Route 110 larger than 20 acres, the local municipality should listen to the residents and take advantage of the rare opportunity to transform the community.

The saga in Plainview highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to planning in Nassau. Some important questions remain: Why does the as-of-right zoning allow for large office use in a predominantly suburban area? What is the need for age-restricted living in the immediate area? Can the parcel be put to better use than simply residential and commercial? Is the current zoning part of a larger plan or vision for the area by the Town of Oyster Bay? It is important for any municipality to justify zoning, especially when there is the potential conflict of land use.

So often, residents oppose development for the sake of fearing density and traffic. In Plainview, residents have the unique chance to shape the community by being constructive in their criticisms of the project. The Town of Oyster Bay should engage the public and take an active role in assessing the needs of the area, while taking into consideration the need of adjacent areas. Simply put, the town, developer and residents need to think “bigger,” not in terms of project size, but in regional  impact.

Nassau’s destiny was laid out in the potato fields and grasslands decades ago. It shouldn’t come down to “Accept this project community, or you’ll be forced to deal with the as-of-right.”

This is one of the few chances for all involved to put the planning process to work. Let’s not squander the opportunity by nitpicking and naysaying. Development is coming, so let’s start to think regionally and build in ways that make sense.