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Kris
May 25th, 2004, 10:18 AM
May 23, 2004

IN THE REGION | LONG ISLAND

Refining the Plan for a Former Psychiatric Center

By CAROLE PAQUETTE

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Building 93, the main structure at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, is such a strong symbol of the site that the planned multiuse development there would have an apartment building of similar size and style.

KINGS PARK

AFTER a weeklong series of public meetings, a master plan for the 368-acre site of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center has been created that envisions the development of only 92 acres of a possible 200.

The amount of land to be developed, significantly less than earlier proposals, was reduced in response to strong concerns expressed by residents over the possibility that a more sprawling development would result in a substantial loss of public land, cause traffic problems and diminish the community's small existing downtown.

At the final meeting on May 11, attended by more than 1,000 residents, Andrés Duany, a principal in the Miami-based planning firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, which was hired by the site's developers to create the master plan, characterized the revised 92-acre approach as "politic, and the only feasible one."

As revised, the multiuse project would consist of a variety of 2,053 residential units, retail and office buildings, parkland and many sidewalks, to encourage residents to travel on foot or on bicycles instead of in cars. Much of the remaining 276 acres would be left as woods or open for public use, including ball fields and other recreational areas.

Dense development at the property is needed to help to pay for the $40 million asbestos cleanup and demolition of more than 40 existing buildings at the 120-year-old hospital site, Mr. Duany said. The cleanup will also deal with the remainders of many buried buildings, which also had asbestos and lead, that were demolished years ago by being "tumbled into their basements and grassed over."

If the plan is ultimately approved by the town of Smithtown, the project is expected to take many years to complete at a cost of more than $1 billion, according to James Buslik, an owner of LAMB Acquisitions, a consortium of primarily local real estate investors, which won the right to buy the property for $7.5 million from the state in an auction last May. The purchase came with the condition that LAMB would pay the remediation costs.

Construction is to begin once the plan has been approved and the site has been entirely cleaned up. The owners hope to begin work on new buildings on the site in about five years and expect the whole project to take 10 to 20 years to build out. The owners said that they had no guarantee they would get grants toward the cleanup but that they were confident they could get financing.

The plan estimates that the development will ultimately add $12.5 million annually to the local tax base, with $9 million going directly to the school district. Estimates are that it would bring in 4,416 new residents and 381 students.

Among the residential units would be 84 "affordable" starter condominium apartments, averaging 700 square feet each and projected to sell for about $200,000, and 1,596 market-rate units averaging 1,200 square feet for "empty nesters" and people 55 and over. The apartments would be in 16 buildings, one a tower of 11 stories and the others two to five stories tall.

There would be a two-story 23,800-square-foot building holding small shops and four 72,000-square-foot office buildings.

The Kings Park Psychiatric Center officially closed in 1996 after the state began phasing out large psychiatric complexes. The property originally consisted of 562 acres; 158 have been dedicated to the Nissequogue River State Park and another 36 acres have been retained by the state, where some of the health facilities are still in use.

On the 368 acres that are being purchased, there are numerous brick buildings, with a total of 2.5 million square feet of space, including the main 11-story, 350,000-square-foot Building 93 that has served as a landmark for the site. It is possible that three buildings may be saved.

The Long Island principals of LAMB, whose initials form the acronym, are Charles Lefkowitz of Port Jefferson, Charles Alter of Lido Beach, Todd Mendik of Locust Valley and James Buslik of East Hills, who is also a principal in Adams & Company, a Manhattan real estate firm. Another partner is the Manhattan-based Durst Organization.

THE public planning forums, called a "charrette," were held on eight consecutive days from May 4 to May 11, and individual afternoon workshops featuring specific subjects like transportation and housing drew up to 200 residents.

The sessions were run by Duany Plater-Zyberk, which set up a studio at a former elementary school where the workshop meetings were held.

Throughout the week the planners, who Mr. Duany said "came in with an empty slate," brainstormed with residents as they continuously revised designs for project options based on the public input.

In the end residents' concerns helped to mold the final plan, reducing the development size and eliminating plans for a supermarket. Suggestions that have now been incorporated into the plan include public recreational areas, a public swimming pool and an amphitheater.

As a result of worries that the development would take business away from the hamlet's downtown, the proposed new retail and office area and the entrance to the development were shifted to a spot along Route 25A, near where it intersects with Kings Park's main street. In effect, that makes the stores at the project an extension of the existing downtown; if the businesses had been placed deeper inside the development, they might have been seen as an alternative to the downtown. Space has been set aside for 32 live-work units in addition to the shops.

In addressing concerns about retaining a sense of the history of the hospital, where many Kings Park residents once worked, the planners designed the 11-story apartment building with 264 units for those 55 and over. It would be similar in size and style to the widely recognized Building 93, which has been deemed structurally unsound and will most likely be demolished.

Although Mr. Duany said connector roads within the development would lead to other existing roads that would do a lot to bypass Route 25A, concern over the impact of traffic on the heavily traveled two-lane state road continues to worry Long Island's major planners like Lee Koppelman, the executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board since 1965, and a former Suffolk County planning director.

"My first concern is that access is limited," Dr. Koppelman said. "There is only one way into the site, which is off Route 25A, and any increase in traffic generated is uncomfortable for residents of the area."

Frank DeRubeis, the Smithtown planning commissioner, said he was also concerned about traffic and the "sheer size of the development." There are already 7,500 homes in Kings Park and the project would increase that total by 30 percent, he said. "In a small area, that is a substantial increase," he added. "The increased density would be the economic way to justify the remediation costs. It raises the question though, should the town through zoning bear the cost of remediation?"

The guiding principle of the Kings Park planners is "smart growth," a community-planning movement that seeks to design development in such a way that sprawl is minimized and open space is retained. The result is a multiuse village with residential, commercial and open spaces within walking distance.

An important element in achieving smart growth in Long Island is the use of a "charrette," a sort of brainstorming public forum that brings together many groups, including residents, politicians, merchants, environmentalists and developers, in a collaborative effort.

The Kings Park charrette was coordinated by the Northport-based Vision Long Island, a nonprofit regional proponent of smart growth. "This was the biggest charrette ever held on Long Island," said Eric Alexander, the director. "The owners are searching for a big idea; this builds a consensus from the community."

Previous Long Island charrettes had been held in commercial corridors in the communities of Mastic-Shirley, Middle Island-Coram, Yaphank and Huntington.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Kris
June 20th, 2004, 05:09 PM
June 20, 2004

LONG ISLAND

The Battle of Kings Park

We like smart growth. It perfectly fits our editorial creed, which is never support anything stupid.

The term and its sister buzzword, New Urbanism, have been popping up all over Long Island lately, attached to various developers' plans to transform forlorn, neglected properties into artfully compact arrangements of homes, businesses and public amenities, with lots of open space left over.

The rebel apostles of smart growth make no small claims for their approach, which has gained converts around the country but struggled to gain a beachhead on Long Island, the fortress of Old Suburbanism. With supreme self-confidence, they promise to rebuild community ties, ease the housing crisis, rev up the tax base, bolster schools, preserve woods and ball fields and make a profit, all while rescuing our souls from the evil grip of the automobile and the mall. They even throw in an obesity remedy: in smart-growth projects, you walk a lot.

Sounds smart to us, if a little messianic. But others are not so sure. To them, "smart growth" is what developers say when they want to coat greedy projects with a glaze of pure intentions. These are the doubters who leapt to the barricades in Kings Park recently to fight back a proposal to build a New Urbanist settlement of townhouses, apartments, cottages, shops, offices and a college campus on the site of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

The 370-acre site is a tarnished gem - a lush, green brownfield, full of crumbling buildings tainted with asbestos and lead paint. When LAMB Acquisitions, the investors behind the project, hired one of the country's most prominent New Urbanist firms, Duany Plater-Zyberk, to create a master plan, the stage was set for a mighty clash of visions.

At least that was how Andrés Duany, a Miami architect and a principal in Duany Plater-Zyberk, portrayed it at a public forum at Kings Park High School in April. He lamented the evils of arterial highways and cookie-cutter subdivisions. He said his ideas would "help you stop spoiling this beautiful island the way you've been doing for 50 years."

Long Islanders are not used to hearing developers deplore the barren anonymity of their tract-house lives. (Pimply teenagers and childless yuppies are supposed to do that, not developers.) So the Kings Parkers bristled. How smart is a project, they asked, that brings more than 4,000 new residents to a quiet little corner of the North Shore? What about cars, noise and congestion? Won't it overwhelm the schools? No thanks, they said. That's why we're in Kings Park. Take your blueprints and go away.

And on Monday, LAMB did.

The developer pulled out, blaming - not very convincingly - the state's inability to clear up complications over New York City's claim to the property under a 19th-century deed.

The Old Suburbanists are celebrating victory, but how sweet is it? The Kings Park contamination will still have to be cleaned up - a $40 million job. High-density development, Mr. Duany insisted, is the only feasible way to make that work. Then there is the urgent need for housing that young people and the empty-nester elderly can afford and that the Kings Park project promised in relative abundance.

Finally, there is the smart-growth trump card, repeatedly played by Mr. Duany in testy public forums. It is that growth is unavoidable, and that the only choice is whether to have it smart or dumb. This is particularly true in Nassau, which has no place left to sprawl.

New Urbanist proposals have always struck us as wholly admirable, if a little fussy, heavy on pastels and blind to the merits of sloppy anarchy. (Imagine what Long Island might look like if Martha Stewart, not Robert Moses, had run the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority all those years.)

But we hope that the New Urbanists won't strike their tents after the Battle of Kings Park. If a critical mass of smart-growth projects, sensitively designed, can win over Long Islanders to a new, sensible vision, that would be a good thing. We're looking optimistically at other projects, like one in Brentwood on the site of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center, and Old Plainview, recently unveiled in Nassau by the software mogul Charles Wang.

If Mr. Duany and his allies want to lift the curse of William Levitt and banish his ghost to wander the pine barrens forever without a plat map, then let them keep trying, and bless their fervent hearts.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

NoyokA
June 20th, 2004, 05:25 PM
Various pictures from my Kings Park escapade. Nothing spookier than an abandoned mental institution.

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Supposedly too, there is some litigation over Brooklyn’s claim to the land. Brooklyn first built the mental institution for their mentally ill, it was thought they would fair better in the confines of the then “country”. Brooklyn handed the land over to New York State a couple of years later, however with a clause that if the state discontinued use of the site for the mentally ill that the property would be returned to the city of Brooklyn.