Jul 26, 2014

Huntington Station Revitalization Moving Ahead

Streetscaping, demolition of an old garage will add to face-lift, while activists say retail business is key.

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Revitalization of Huntington Station is progressing despite some setbacks and differences of opinion about the priorities.

Getting the property at 1000 New York Ave. rehabilitated and a pedestrian mall and retail space started at that site  is high on the agenda of the town's Economic Development Corp. in the new year.

Also near the top of the list is finishing the streetscaping project along both sides of New York Avenue south to Pulaski Road.

This summer, the EDC helped get going at the corner of Lowndes Avenue and Rt. 110. Raised garden beds are in place now, being run by the Long Island Community Agriculture Network through the non-profit in a two-year license agreement.

"What you see isn't the final footprint for the park. We still don't have a definite plan for the park," said Joan Cergol, executive director of the EDC. "We'll talk with the community and do outreach sessions to develop a permanent plan for the site."

The town obtained the last private parcel of land in November and will work with the state for use of the state-owned parcel along the street, Cergol says, with the town either doing a transfer or getting a use and occupancy permit.

The Huntington Station Action Coalition, which brought in members from community groups, advocates and agencies, as well as government officials, recommended community education and outreach and building civic pride, along with short-term and long-term initiatives to address community organization, immigration management, housing and code enforcement, policing efforts and education and human services.

A local economy that went south along with the national economy stymied two sets of plans for developing EDC parcels.

A mixed-use development at Northridge Street, planned in more flush times, with 15,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor and a community and cultural space on the second floor, wasn't economically feasible and a developer chose not to continue working with the town.

A new market feasibility study recommends single-story retail, but Cergol said the EDC will wait for the economy to improve and try to build the mixed-use building to serve as a community benchmark. Building plans the EDC had drafted echo the design of the old Huntington Station fire house across the street, which was torn down during urban renewal.

The drive-through proposed for 1000 New York Ave. at the corner of Olive Street, fell through when Starbucks retrenched. Developers who were going to build a mixed-use building with retail and residential at the site backed out last summer when the town refused to guarantee they would receive the payout on a federal loan if they built the project according to their stated plans.

"We're a municipality. We can't guarantee that," Cergol said. "It was overwhelming. You have a difficult lending environment, there was chaos in Huntington Station with gang shootings and a school closing -- it was a confluence of events."

Since then, the town has acquired title to the parcel.

Demolition of the building is expected to start after asbestos and lead paint abatement is completed, by about mid-January, she said. The retail project should go out for a request for proposals in the first quarter. "It's a high-visibility corner, and it's in the sewer district," Cergol said. "This is real estate. We realize we have to try this again."

The town is awaiting state Department of Transportation approval for the pedestrian plaza and streetscaping from the triangle at Jonny D's Pizza south to Pulaski Road.

Board members noted at their November meeting that approval is being delayed by backlogs caused by retirements within the DOT. "We're already funded for that and we have our contractor ready to go," Cergol said. The town has $3.015 million for the pedestrian plaza and streetscaping.

The EDC, which was formed in 2003, is charged with fostering economic development by acquiring, building, and rehabilitating commercial and recreational facilities, obtaining and providing municipal improvements, providing advice and technical assistance to help develop businesses and to secure private and public funding for public purpose projects.

Also in the future are plans to develop what's listed in the EDC's 2009 annual report as a brownfield, the former Rotundo waste-transfer station, a vacant parcel behind the Huntington Station branch library. It's possible the town and EDC could do a land swap between the Rotundo site and the surface parking lots on the west side of New York Avenue, between the pedestrian bridge and the Huntington Community First Aid Squad building on Railroad Steet, says EDC board member Dolores Thompson.

That's with an eye to developing retail shops to attract some of the Long Island Rail Road commuters who pass through the Huntington station, and in keeping with building a business area near the station.

"We have to really engage the railroad," said Thompson, also a community activist and outgoing NAACP chapter president. "We need to make that a plaza like you have in other areas, so when you get off the train you can go to the bakery or the cleaners or the drug store."

What the EDC could do instead, suggests Matt Harris, a Huntington Station resident and community activist who opposed the failed Avalon Bay housing development, is consider putting in a transit-oriented district at the Rotundo site. "It's 6/1oths of a mile from the train station. People could walk. That's a site that's ripe for development."

The EDC needs to focus on getting businesses into Huntington Station, Harris said. "We need our downtown back. No more housing. Give me storefronts. Why do we have empty parking lots?" he asked, referring to the parking lots on the west side of New York Avenue by Church Street, where a busy downtown stood before urban renewal.

One of the projects the EDC started in 2008 before the economy soured was to get a rendering of plans for a mixed-use retail center in that northern parking lot.

"They talk about revitalization, but I haven't seen it," Harris said. A good start for 2011 is to tear down the dilapidated garage at 1000 New York Ave. and put in retail and finish the pedestrian plaza. "I would like that to happen by the end of 2011," Harris said. "They've got the development dollars to do this."

That site is a perfect block where EDC can start over, he said. The town should buy, fix or replace the buildings near the old garage. "They could start all over and make it right," Harris said.

Harris and Thompson agree that stores are needed to help revitalize the community. One way to do that is to improve the appearance and business climate, Thompson said. They agree that removing the old garage and redoing that Olive Street corner is a good start.

Streetscaping will help, Thompson said, as will getting more police out into the community on a regular basis and doing more events to boost civic pride like the Oct. 2 Unity in the Community festival and parade she helped organize. "2010 wasn't a good year," Thompson said, "but it was a year when people got involved and figured out what they need to do. We need to build on that. We have to change people."

The past year has been difficult, Cergol agreed, with the closing of Jack Abrams, continued slow economic times and the community division over the proposed 490-unit Avalon Bay housing development, which was ultimately rejected by the Town Board. The EDC was "one of many entities that Avalon reached out to," Cergol said. "Where people live is important to a revitalization process. We looked at it as having direct connectivity to our revitalization efforts. It would enhance and support what we're doing to get market-rate housing."

Cergol is optimistic about the coming year. "We're trying to balance so many needs in Huntington Station. When a school is shuttered, it's a bad message to the community. That's not good for what we do. Perception is reality to people. We need to start moving ahead and some real construction will be a good signal to people."

On that, all parties seem to agree.

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