The gatekeepers

If you want to build anything on Long Island, you need these development-friendly officials

Mar.March 05, 2018 01:00 PM

On  Long Island, developers have to pick their battles. That includes everything from the size of the project to the town or village where it will be located. Because of Long Island’s famously byzantine approvals process, companies have become accustomed to working through the mountains of paperwork to get a project off the ground, but it’s still important to have the ear of someone who might help expedite the process.

Politicians frequently act as gatekeepers. They bring the right people together, flag proposals for faster processing through departments and work to avoid pitfalls along the way. And, of course, they work with the community to help ensure residents (read: voters) are happy.

Here’s a look at a handful of public officials who have helped usher in new projects to Long Island.

Nassau County

Francis Murray
Mayor, Village of Rockville Centre

Since he took office in 2011, Francis Murray has been involved in efforts to attract — and keep — young professionals in his hometown of Rockville Centre. He’s focused on revitalizing the downtown area and rethinking parking, as well as championing new housing options that suit the needs of millennials. AvalonBay Communities’ Rockville Centre AvalonBay, for example, has brought more than 500 new units to the community over Murray’s tenure. Many of the newest units are studio and one-bedroom rentals to appeal to the still-single set as well as empty nesters. Murray has pushed for development to give people more options and keep Long Island’s best from decamping to the city, brokers say. “I believe that to sustain what you have you have to build to get better,” Murray told Newsday. “Otherwise, you’re going to lose market share.”

Pedram Bral
Mayor, Village of Great Neck

Pedram Bral ran on a platform of revitalizing Great Neck’s downtown. He has overseen a few new projects since his election in 2015, but the village is now gearing up for the next phase. VHB, a New York City-based consulting company, has been hired to evaluate the area for potential zoning changes and an eventual master plan for development. Bral said no decisions would be made until after seeing VHB’s report, but a new three-building residential development near Middle Neck Road and Clover Drive was presented at a recent board meeting. That project is just down the road from Lalezarian Properties’ proposed community of 11 townhouses. When developers approach the mayor’s office about projects, Bral said, it works to expedite the process as much as possible by working out the nitty-gritty code details and prioritizing projects through the

 Building Department.

Bruce Blakeman
Councilman, Town of Hempstead

Bruce Blakeman, appointed to the Hempstead Town Board in January 2015, wants to make Franklin Square Long Island’s next downtown. To that end, he is in talks with legislators about creating a mixed-use development at the commercial area on Hempstead Turnpike and Franklin Avenue, according to a February Newsday article. “It’s long overdue for Franklin Square,” he said. The idea’s only on the drawing board, but Blakeman knows his way around big projects, having been a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 2001 to 2009.

Laura Curran
Nassau County Executive

Laura Curran has only been in office since the beginning of the year, but she has already taken several steps to encourage development. “We need an economic vision for Nassau County, focusing on transit-oriented development, mixed-use projects for retail and businesses alike,” Curran told Newsday in December. To that end, she reinstated the position of deputy county executive for economic development, appointing Evlyn Tsimis of Manhasset, former vice president of regulatory and government affairs at the cable company Altice USA, to that role. Curran is working with other local officials to push forward the redevelopment of both the Nassau Hub and Belmont Park.

Suffolk County

Steve Bellone
Suffolk County Executive

Steve Bellone has been touting transit-oriented development since his days as Babylon town supervisor, when he spearheaded the Wyandanch Rising project. The $500 million mixed-use project has brought 177 residential units to the area. Master developer Albanese Organization of Garden City hopes to start the next phase in 2018. Among Bellone’s other downtown revitalization efforts are Tritec Real Estate’s $600 million Ronkonkoma Hub and The Wolkoff Family’s Heartland Town Square (see page 20), which has also been 15 years in the making. Bellone has also worked on  infrastructure issues including transportation and water usage initiatives.

Paul Pontieri
Mayor, Village of Patchogue

Since 2004, Paul Pontieri has helped usher in numerous developments to Patchogue, with an eye toward attracting and retaining Long Island’s young workers. Several midsize developments have opened in recent years, like Copper Beech, an 80-unit townhouse development. New Village, a redevelopment of the former Swezey’s department store, is just a few minutes from the village’s LIRR station. It will include 40,000 square feet of retail and 291 residential units. Pontieri is an advocate for affordable housing. Half of the homes at Copper Beech are restricted to those who meet the income guidelines, based on the median income of the area. At New Village, 24 percent of the units will be earmarked as affordable.

Kevin LaValle
Councilman, Town of Brookhaven

Coming from a real estate background, Kevin LaValle is keen to see new development in Brookhaven. He’s a licensed loan mortgage originator at Lynx Mortgage Bank and began his tenure as a council member in 2013. Since then, he’s helped revitalize several shopping centers and park areas while encouraging residential projects. The Arboretum Project, a $100 million, 292-unit community in the hamlet of Farmingville, was delayed last year but could break ground this year, according to Newsday. LaValle has been involved in numerous other projects, from adding affordable rental units to revitalizing decrepit shopping centers. He’s also worked on rezoning 56 parcels of land in Farmingville and is working with the community on how to best develop the area for the future.

Jay Schneiderman
Supervisor, Town of Southampton

Since entering office in 2016, Jay Schneiderman has been a vocal proponent for many development projects. He was a strong supporter of the Hills at Southampton Planned Development District in East Quogue, although that plan did not pass in a December vote. He has helped push forward new zoning exceptions for assisted living facilities in order to create housing for aging Long Islanders, according to 27east.com. He also voted to adopt the Supplemental Findings Statement for the Canoe Place Inn in order to keep construction at the site going. In February, Schneiderman said he is considering a run for Suffolk Comptroller. 


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