FOR A GENERATION, a hard hat sighted on former farmland in the Route 110 area of Melville meant a new office tower was going up. This spring, after several years of inactivity, there will be development again not offices this time but multi-family housing. Four projects that would add 633 housing units to the Route 110 corridor are under construction or planned. They range from $600-a-month rentals to $300,000, five-bedroom detached condominiums. The housing will not only alter the commercial character of the Route 110 corridor, but will prod into existence what housing advocates and many business leaders say Long Island has long needed: an inventory of middle-class multi-family housing near employment centers. The development is possible because Huntington Town amended its master plan in 1993, rezoning the corridor to permit multi-family housing of up to 22 dwellings per acre. The rezoning came after a 10-year debate on whether office development had gotten out of hand, say government officials, civic leaders and developers interviewed recently.
Town planner Richard Machtay said promoting residential growth over corporate development will alleviate the traffic congestion of Route 110, provide employees with more commuting options, and give a boost to local merchants. “People walk or bicycle to work in other parts of the country, and we can’t imagine that here on Long Island,” Machtay said. “Not everybody earns $100,000 and wants to buy a three-bedroom house on a half-acre and commute an hour to hour to work. This is housing that will appeal to people who work in the area, and might like to live here as well.” The developments will provide middle-class housing long available near corporate office parks around the rest of the country. “We’re building a community with housing choices for a wide range of people,” said Michael Dubb, a partner in the Beechwood Organization, which plans to break ground this summer on a 193-home private gated development, Country Pointe at Melville, in partnership with Reckson Associates Real Estate. “We envision a young couple starting out in a townhouse, moving to a detached home when they start a family, then moving back to a townhouse as empty nesters. Most communities here don’t have that kind of range.” A total of 90 units in the four projects will be affordable or low-income housing, a result of litigation against the town by housing advocacy groups.
Construction began in April on Avalon Court, a 108-unit rental development by Avalon Properties at Republic and Ruland Roads. The rentals will be built in three-unit clusters, said Alex Twining, vice-president of development for Avalon. Fifty-two of the apartments will be two-bedroom units, 22 will be one-bedroom, and 34 will be three-bedroom, Twining said. Thirty-percent of the units will qualify as affordable housing. Half of those units will be low-income housing, and rent for $600 a month. Units will be clustered in groups of four around what the developer calls “a central village green,” including a clubhouse and outdoor pool. The buildings are designed to evoke New England clapboard homes, with dormers, pitched roofs and clapboard siding. Next to Avalon Court, behind the Price Club store, Williston Park-based Beechwood will build Country Pointe at Melville on 30 acres. The development will include 111 single-family detached homes and 82 detached townhouses, said Beechwood’s Dubb. Single-family houses will be three-, four- and five-bedroom models with 2,000 to 3,300 square feet, on lots of up to 7,000 square feet. They’ll be priced between $215,000 and $295,000. Townhouses will have two or three bedrooms, 1,600 to 2,000 square feet, and be priced from $180,000 to $220,000. The architect is Jerold Axelrod of Commack. Barbash Associates hopes to break ground in the fall on the Villages at Huntington, a 248-unit private development at the site of the McGovern Sod Farm at Pinelawn Road and the Long Island Expressway’s north service road. Fifty-eight units will be sold as affordable housing, said Susan Barbash, a principal.
The affordable housing will be attached, with two units sharing a common wall, Barbash said. The other units will be detached. Homes will include threeand four-bedroom models and be designed by William Schwartz Architects of Greenwich, Conn. The style is New England traditional. Sixteen acres of common property will be landscaped by William Schmitt Associates of St. James and other Long Island landscapers.Another development, Paumonauk Hills, will go up on the west side of Walt Whitman Road, north of Pine Ridge Drive. The 28-acre project will have 84 attached townhouses clustered in groups of four or five. The owner, Leonard Litwin, hasn’t decided whether the development will be gated, said his attorney, Herb Balin. In addition to the four multi-family projects, there are two other projects proposed for lands near the Route 110 corridor. In April, the town approved a plan by Benjamin Development Co. to build 250 units of affordable senior housing on 17 acres at the northeast corner of Round Swamp Road and the LIE north service road.
Construction of a 50-unit, low-income housing project on Colonial Springs Road east of Pinelawn Road, approved by the town in 1988, remains caught up in litigation by neighbors. Existing residential addresses around Route 110 are few. Two condominium developments fronting on Walt Whitman Road, Northgate and the Villas of West Hills, contain about 200 units. Although developers find office construction far more profitable than residential housing, it’s been tough in recent years to find anchor tenants for proposed construction. “I give them [the town and developers] credit for trying something different,” said Peter Tilles, an office developer who owns property on Pinelawn Road. Town officials say their decision to “not encourage” more commercial development is intended to better balance business and residential uses, and to attract families who would patronize local merchants and attend local schools. Officials cite such benefits as reduced traffic and fairer taxation.
The rezoning is hardly without risk, political and otherwise. Town officials, developers, advocates of low-income housing and civic watchdogs will scrutinize the results. “People on Long Island are afraid multi-family turns into a slum, to put it bluntly,” said Balin, a partner at Certilman, Balin Adler & Hyman, an East Meadow law firm. “I don’t think so. I think the owners want to protect their investment. There is a great need for affordable housing on Long Island, and I expect a well-constructed project that meets that need is going to succeed.” Over the years, many commercial developers have complained that overly conservative zoning boards have blocked them from constructing the kind of mixed-use projects prevalent elsewhere. Tilles, whose properties include Nassau Crossways Office Park in Woodbury, said business owners are impacted when entry-level employees can’t afford to live in the region. “Some of my tenants have to charter buses to bring workers in from Brooklyn and from eastern Suffolk,” he said. Companies that depend on so-called knowledge industry workers, such as software programmers, technicians and marketing specialists, often bemoan the lack of what some call “yuppie housing” – condominiums or upscale apartment houses where residents tend to be young and mobile.
Town officials and developers of the new housing suggest that young and single people who work in the Route 110 corridor would be among those likely to move in, in many cases leaving illegal basement apartments and coming onto the tax rolls. Similar housing developments in other areas of the country serve not only young office workers and single wage-earners, but meet other needs as well, said Avalon’s Twining. Companies in nearby offices often absorb units for temporary executive housing or for corporate entertaining. Other units are purchased or leased by local retirees who want to stay in the community without responsibility for home and yard upkeep. Frequent travelers and others who reject traditional suburban housing make up the balance. “Look, we’ve been losing our young people,” said Wayne Nester, a spokesman for Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone. “They can’t afford houses here. They move in with their parents, they move in with friends, and it’s still tough. People who are getting out of high school or college will now have choices available.”