As residents and civic leaders from hamlets across Brookhaven voiced their concerns at a Town public hearing Tuesday that focused on the Next Generation Housing proposal put forth by Councilwoman Connie Kepert, a lot of the focus landed on the Three Village and Port Jefferson area.
According to Kepert, the idea would create a mixed-use residential zoning code that aims to encourage pedestrian-oriented development. Residential apartment units would be mixed among commercial retail space, with the code requiring a minimum of 1,000-square-feet of commercial space for every 10 residential units. Construction must also be in close proximity to transportation hubs or major roadways.
"This is something Long Island needs to move towards; a compact development not sprawling over our open spaces," she said.
Kepert said the proposed Next Generation Housing zoning code would allow developers to build 12-14 units per acre of land, with higher density possible by using Pine Barrens credits. While the proposed code mandates a minimum of 20 percent of the residential units be affordable, she noted the idea is not designed to develop low-cost housing.
However, a number of speakers at the meeting expressed concerns that the new zoning category would lead to an increase in population density since the Next Generation Housing zoning would allow four-story residential buildings near Long Island Rail Road stations and major roadways.
"This far more resembles a license to spot zone throughout the Town than the ability to plan for a limited number of areas suitable for mixed-use, more dense housing to enhance walkable hamlet centers and downtowns around transportation hubs," said Robert de Zafra, a Setauket resident who spoke representing civic associations in Setauket and Stony Brook.
Others said they have been fighting to prevent high-density housing from being constructed in their community.
"We in Terryville have fought a determined effort by several town politicians to build a high-density, low-income housing center in a downtown many of us have been working hard to resurrect," said Francis G. Gibbons Sr., executive board member of the Port Jeff Station/Terryville Civic Association. "New residential construction is a short-term solution to a long-term job problem."
While some expressed concerns about Kepert’s proposal, there were some who also voiced their support.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, said he was in favor of the Next Generation Housing idea as recent studies conducted by the non-profit organization show 43 percent of Suffolk residents would prefer to live in a walkable, downtown community.
"We would envision this code would be applied where communities petition to have it," Alexander said. "Let's get another zoning option on the books."
In addition, several residents from the Bellport area also spoke in support of the plan, saying that Next Generation Housing near the Bellport train station would be the "catalyst to change the entire area."
"It's a step forward towards delivering what we envision as a vibrant main street, increased property values and promotes a sense of pride in the community," said John Rogers, acting chairman of the Greater Bellport Coalition.
Given the level of public interest in the proposal, the Town Board will be accepting public comments until Feb. 1. The board may vote on the zoning code as early as its Feb. 5 meeting.