By TERRI ALESSI-MICELI //
Some live only in the present, heedless of the future. Happily, however, the Town of Smithtown is thinking about the future.
Specifically, the town has been devising smart strategies for keeping our young people here on Long Island.
Meantime, young Long Islanders are thinking about their futures, too. But unfortunately, the vast majority of them don’t foresee a future here. Unless things change.
The Rauch Foundation issued an extensive “Next Generation of Long Islanders” survey last July. They interviewed eighteen-hundred 18- to 34-year-olds who were either living on the Island or had been born here.
Astonishingly, 67 percent said they planned to leave our region within the next five years.
Imagine if such a mass exodus of young people were to occur. Long Island would become – with little exaggeration – a ghost town.
For one thing, our regional business infrastructure would all but collapse. Can you imagine how impossibly narrow an employer’s hiring options would be if two-thirds of our young workforce left town?
And why are they planning to go? The Rauch survey pinpointed the absence of appropriately scaled housing as a major reason:
“The majority of respondents believe changes to municipal housing policies are key to retaining young Long Islanders. It showed wide support for more variety in housing stock, with a majority of respondents backing mixed-use zoning, micro-apartments, multifamily zoning and home apartments.”
With their eyes on the future, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and the Smithtown Town Board are thinking along the same lines. They recognize that well-conceived affordable-housing options are essential for keeping young Long Islanders here.
The Town of Smithtown is seeking public comment on a proposal to create “overlay zoning” that would permit mixed-use development on a portion of the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge. The deadline for written input is upon us.
The change, vital to the park’s long-term success, would allow for up to 1,000 market-rate units, though developers expressing initial interest have projected far smaller figures.
Residences would consist mainly of studio and one-bedroom units geared to singles or couples without children. The change would provide young professionals with the opportunity to enjoy Innovation Park for living, working and recreation.
The park – which County Executive Steve Bellone has called “the cornerstone of Suffolk County’s economy” – helps keep Hauppauge’s property taxes among the lowest in the county. It also brings $19.6 million in assessed value to the town, and provides more than $44 million to the Hauppauge Union Free School District. Tax revenue from new development would fully offset any added demand for local services.
An April 2019 study by the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency and the Regional Plan Association found an urgent need on Long Island for housing for young professionals, both in Innovation Park and Island-wide. Across Long Island, business leaders and policymakers consider housing a lynchpin for attracting and retaining a talented and competitive workforce.
Some say the new development would burden local schools, but the impact would be low and highly sustainable. The new units are projected to generate up to a maximum of 90 students over a decade. Yet the district lost 110 students within the past year alone.
The community has also raised the question of added traffic, but the new zoning stands to generate only a moderate increase in traffic on weekends.
Our young people are telling us straight out: Unless new housing options arise, they’re leaving town. Vast numbers of young workers will stage their exit, only to leave behind an aged population incapable of filling local jobs.
For all these reasons, we’re encouraging everyone to rally behind the town’s mixed-use proposal for the Innovation Park.
Our beautiful Long Island deserves a strong and thriving future. But it won’t happen unless we’re thinking about the future and preparing for the future, just the way the Town of Smithtown is doing.
Terri Alessi-Miceli is the president and CEO of the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island.