Local Planning Committee holds inaugural meeting
Note: The public is invited to the first public workshop, set for Thursday, Nov. 9 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Hicksville Community Center, 28 West Carl St., Hicksville.
What makes a downtown a “downtown”?
As in not just a place where people work, but where they live, gather, walk, shop and bring vibrancy to a neighborhood. Especially in the evenings or on weekends.
Lionel Chitty, former longtime president of the Hicksville Chamber of Commerce, knows that his hometown does not have one.
“When you go to areas like Farmingdale and Patchogue and Huntington, you know you’re in a downtown,” he told those gathered for the inaugural meeting of the Local Planning Committee (LPC) for Hicksville’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). “You think, ‘I can hang out here, eat, walk around, do stuff.’”
Earlier this summer, the hamlet was awarded $10 million through Governor Andrew Cuomo’s DRI program. Several dozen people, including the 17 members of the LPC, met at the Hicksville Community Center on Oct. 31 to start the six-month planning process that will culminate with those funds beginning to flow to Hicksville.
The committee is co-chaired by Town of Oyster Bay Deputy Supervisor Gregory Carman Jr. of Farmingdale and former Greenport Mayor Dave Kapell, who held a similar position for neighboring Westbury when it won a DRI grant in 2016.
Kapell is also a member of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, which recommended the hamlet.
“We reviewed many proposals,” Kapell noted, “and Hicksville’s was far and away the most impressive.”
Hicksville, he went on, “is an incredibly important nexus for Long Island.”
Kapell made note that $10 million is a lot of money, “but the challenges for revitalization of Hicksville are large and much more funding will be needed to realize the community’s larger vision. This makes it important to choose a project or projects for the DRI that will leverage the additional private and public sector funds needed to be successful.”
The meeting was led by Erik Wood, the New York office director for the HKS design firm. HKS is part of a team of consultants that also includes a pair of planners from New York State that will help the LPC in formulating and realizing its vision.
Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino gave the opening remarks, stating, “Downtown Hicksville is on the verge of a major renaissance. We can transform Hicksville and the community into a vibrant downtown….The results of DRI are new jobs, new housing opportunities, and the implementation of steady improvements to a walkable, bicycle-friendly environment.”
He added, “Community development always needs to balance the economic needs and benefits of businesses while preserving the suburban character and integrity that initially attracted residents to this area.”
The busy railroad station was identified as a “prime asset” and much hope was also pinned on the MTA’s Third Track Project to expand and improve rail transportation on the main branch of the Long Island Rail Road.
Wood said that in the application, “there was a desire to have a robust public engagement.” He noted that community groups had been working on rejuvenating the business district for more than a decade. They envisioned more and affordable housing and new office spaces and restaurants and a walkable downtown.
Scope Of The Plan
A press release laid out the possibilities of the downtown transformation, with the following potential projects:
- decorative pavers
- attractive lighting
- newly planted trees
- street art
- homogeneous street and storefront signage program to create a strong sense of place intended to celebrate Hicksville’s history and cultural diversity
- Complete Street initiatives that include new sidewalks and improvements to preexisting pedestrian pathways, footpaths, bicycle paths, bicycle racks and cross walks
- A plaza area—large community gathering space to be used for events such as fairs, farmers markets, art exhibitions, food truck nights, classic car nights, concerts, and much more.
Wood put up a slide showing how the hamlet looked before the widening of the two main arteries, Newbridge Road (State Route 106) and Broadway (Route 107). He observed that this was part of the zeitgeist of the 1950s and ’60s, when “cars were king” and relieving congestion and speeding traffic flows were paramount considerations.
Ironically, as the population grew and more people from surrounding areas made their way to the railroad station and 106 and 107 became major north-south thoroughfares, the traffic and congestion only got worse.
“Traffic mitigation is high on the list, but we have to be careful not to divert traffic to the residential neighborhoods because that would create new problems,” Saladino said.
LPC members Paul Molinari and County Legislator Rose Marie Walker talked about decades past, and how widening the streets essentially killed the walkable character of the hamlet.
LPC member and Oyster Bay Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, along with fellow LPC member and town trustee Anthony Macagnone, have represented the government in the visioning process. Her feeling was that people wanted to get back to a “hometown feel” and the final plan ought to create spaces for “community congregation.”
In response to a couple of similarly worded inquiries from Wood, the consensus was that there was no place currently in the downtown district that conformed to the ideal of a downtown.
Alesia, Wood, Macagnone, Molinari and LPC member Ryan Coyne all emphasized the need for affordable housing and transit oriented development. And the new housing would be geared to both young people starting out and “empty nesters” looking to downsize.
The People Speak
“Where is this town? It’s all over the map,” said Hicksville resident John Moehringer when Wood opened the floor for public comment. “It’s been pulled this way or that over the past 50 years….First decide what you want the town to look like in the future. And then decide these opportunities that come along—pick the ones that match the idea you want to see.”
Susan Petrosillo of the Hicksville Gardens Civic Association spoke for other civics and residents as well when she echoed the views of other speakers—that whatever zoning was finalized, residents did not want five- or six-story apartment buildings in the downtown.
“I’ve been here for 37 years,” she said. “It’s easy to get into the attitude of ‘It’s never going to happen.’ But we’re finally moving forward. We appreciate [outsiders’] input, but in the final outcome it has to be what we want here.”
Irene Guarasci of the Downtown Hicksville Revitalization Committee said, “People are not happy [about the downtown]. We know it has to change. And it has to be a well thought out plan, which seems to be the direction we’re going in.”
Vincent Ruvolo, president of the Hicksville Chamber of Commerce, found the aesthetics of the hamlet lacking.
“It’s not an attractive place right now,” he noted. “ The storefronts are a mishmash of new and very old storefronts—and not charming old, but dated old.”
He added, “Traffic is a killer. I’m on those roads every day, nights and weekends. The commuter-pedestrian issue is tremendous. I almost kill someone every night.”
“Thank you for your failure,” quipped Wood, to some laughter.
“I worry. It’s a matter of time,” said Ruvolo, who concluded, “If you want people to walk around, they have to be able to walk around safely.”
“My chief takeaway from Westbury to share with Hicksville is to think big and new,” Kapell told the Hicksville News. “Notwithstanding the good work that has gone into bringing Hicksville to this point, the DRI offers a fresh opportunity for new ideas to emerge. I found the Westbury experience to be very successful. Managing public expectations is always a challenge, but the deliberative process used for the DRI allowed the public to reach consensus over time such that the final strategy submitted to the state enjoyed broad community support.”
Saladino was asked what the town could do to expedite the process.
“We have to listen to the residents, and make sure everyone’s vision is considered,” he responded. “We also have to remove the hurdles that have created impediments in the past.”
The supervisor concluded, “The best part of this community is the people, and by listening to them and following through, we’ll have a Hicksville that we can all be proud of.”
To watch a video of the Oct. 31 meeting, visit www.facebook.com/OysterBayTown.