Wyandanch Rising On Long Island

The Town of Babylon has requested qualifications, due March 18, to build a transit-oriented suburban retrofit. The project is New Urban Network’s March Plan of the Month.

The Town of Babylon, New York, is seeking a developer for its Wyandanch Rising project, a potentially significant transit-oriented development (TOD) on Long Island.

The 40-acre first phase calls for 750 to 1,050 dwelling units, substantial retail and civic space, and a few offices. The project is centered on a new plaza at the Wyandanch Station of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR).

The plan (see attached images) by Torti Gallas and Partners of Silver Spring, Maryland, offers linear greens that extend the public space of the plaza to the west and south, connecting to housing, retail, and a proposed public health center. The conceptual plan, currently under review and to be supported by a form-based code, was based on a vision plan by urbanist Jeff Speck.

The town has purchased and controls more than 80 percent of the Phase 1 site (later phases are expected to extend the project to more than 100 acres).

Wyandanch is an area of about 10,000 people within the Town of Babylon, a suburban municipality of 211,000 residents (2000 census). Wyandanch was built around the LIRR but suffered a decline after the middle of the 20th Century, and the area is characterized by dozens of brownfield sites and a blighted public realm. In addition, the site has no public water and sewer, which limits density.

If all goes according to plan, Wyandanch could be a model for the transit-oriented retrofit of an aging suburb. As a result, the project has garnered widespread attention. The county and the state have identified Wyandanch as a priority redevelopment area. In addition, Bank of America and the US Green Building Council recognized Wyandanch as one of 10 Affordable Green Neighborhoods nationally — a selection that came with a $25,000 grant last November. Town Supervisor Steve Bellone has spearheaded the project locally since hiring in 2002.

Construction of sewers to support the density required for TOD is planned to begin soon, says Ekta Naik-Gupta, the town’s design director. Suffolk County has offered to waive sewer fees for new businesses for five years. The new infrastructure will be laid under Straight Path, a 5-lane suburban arterial that runs through the area. The construction allows the town to rebuild the road as a boulevard with a central median, one lane in each direction, and on-street parking.

Traffic calming is vital to the plan because many streets are too broad. From a transportation standpoint, Wyandanch has significant assets for sprawl repair. In addition to the commuter rail station, the area is built on a pre-World War II grid — providing the connectivity to support a walkable neighborhood.

The town’s request for qualifications (RFQ) calls for submissions by March 18, 2011. The city describes the project as a “transformative mixed-use development with a range of housing options built at appropriate transit-oriented development densities, active street-level retail uses, civic buildings, and attractive public spaces.”

The town is seeking a balance between high-quality urban design, on the one hand, and flexibility to respond to market conditions, on the other. The RFQ addresses this issue: “The Conceptual Design is meant to be a strong guiding framework with mandatory elements that ensure compliance with the goals and flexible elements that provide room for the developer’s creativity, vision, and market assessment.” The form-based code, scheduled for adoption by early April, will be vital to walking the line between design control and flexibility.

According to the RFQ, plans call for a 2,000-car parking garage, but this building will not be necessary to complete phase 1.

As Suffolk County requires for large-scale sewer hook-ups, 20 percent of the units will be affordable to residents who earn no more than 120 percent of the region’s median income.

Wyandanch Rising goals:

  • Improve the quality of life for Wyandanch residents.
  • Increase property tax revenues and establish a sustainable financial base for Wyandanch.
  • Implement transit-oriented development by creating residential and mixed-use development in Wyandanch responsive to regional building and architectural traditions.
  • Create a distinctive and positive “sense of place” for Wyandanch.
  • Satisfy the current and future parking demands of commuters, the business community, and residents.
  • Improve the vehicular traffic infrastructure to serve the long-term needs of Wyandanch.
  • Enhance and encourage walkability throughout Wyandanch.
  • Enhance public “green” space, open space, public plazas, sidewalk/trail linkages, and landscaping in Wyandanch.
  • Use innovative, environmentally friendly, and sustainable architecture and site design where economically feasible.
  • Further, the revitalization of Wyandanch through significant new private investment in residential, retail, and parking development, as well as in public infrastructure, transit, and traffic improvements.
  • Become a model for green, sustainable development on Long Island.