Study: In pandemic’s wake, expect LI land-use changes

Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares: Downtowns in need of revitalization -- including those likely to change in the wake of COVID-19 -- can learn a lot from the Village of Farmingdale, according to the Long Island Regional Planning Council.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

When the pandemic is finally over, expect a drastically different Long Island land-use landscape.

So predicts the Long Island Regional Planning Council, which this week announced the results of a wide-ranging study that considers the past and future of LI brick-and-mortar retail – already challenged before COVID-19, according to the council – and other substantial regional land uses, all likely to be “altered significantly” when the smoke clears.

The land-use study was one of two studies the LIRPC trumpeted at its Sept. 15 meeting, alongside an in-depth review of the Village of Farmingdale’s years-long downtown revitalization effort – a bona fide “renaissance” and “economic boom,” according to the Regional Planning Council, and “a great model of Nassau County’s ‘Live, Work, Play’ vision,” according to County Executive Laura Curran.

“With its bustling downtown, attractive housing options and thriving business environment, Farmingdale Village … has proven that supportive zoning policies and creative revitalization programs can make a real impact on the bottom line,” Curran said, touting “more tax dollars to support the school district and other public needs.”

John Cameron: Downtown draw.

The Farmingdale fiscal-impact analysis is not completely unrelated to the land-use study. Both were conducted for the LIRPC by Pennsylvania-based planning-support specialist 4Ward Planning, and both speak to economic conditions before and after the Age of Coronavirus – with a particular emphasis on after, notes LIRPC Chairman John Cameron.

“There is significant synergy between the two studies,” Cameron said in a statement. “The long-term impact of COVID-19 can dramatically transform land use – such as a growing demand for suburban communities with thriving downtowns, as people move away from dense urban housing.”

The land-use impact study analyzes how Long Island’s major land uses – housing, retail, restaurant/entertainment venues, offices, light industrial and recreation – are likely to shift in the near and long terms.

Increased demand for multigenerational housing and light-industrial services are among the study’s key predictions, along with the need for updated zoning laws reflecting new work-from-home needs and a focus on “pop-up” retail in vacant downtown spaces.

Some suburban office parks will need to be repurposed and recreational parklands can expect more foot traffic as residents seek safer outdoor alternatives, according to the study.

Laura Curran: Look to Farmingdale.

“The findings … prove that across Nassau and Suffolk counties, we must address the challenges – and embrace the opportunities – to ensure we have a thriving economy on Long Island as we move past the pandemic,” LIRPC Executive Director Richard Guardino said Tuesday.

The Regional Planning Council, meanwhile, counts “destination restaurants, breweries, unique shops and newly built apartments, replacing older properties and vacant storefronts” as chunky chips in Farmingdale’s downtown revival game.

Major takeaways from the village economic analysis include Farmingdale’s $20 million in downtown capital-improvement investments – and the opening of 35 new downtown businesses – since 2012.

The study also dives deep into six downtown multifamily residential projects, which have created 323 total residential units since 2014. According to the Regional Planning Council, the projects have resulted in only 21 additional school-age children for the Farmingdale School District, while so far generating $2.1 million in school property tax revenues.

Numbers like that prove “the tremendous measurable economic impact that communities like Farmingdale can realize when they focus on revitalization,” Cameron noted – and provide a clear roadmap for other distressed downtowns, according to Curran, including those struggling to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In these difficult economic times, it is even more important to know what strategies are tested and proven,” the county executive said. “I encourage other municipalities to look to Farmingdale as they develop their own economic resurgences.”