Long Island resistance to a denser suburbia

Plans from New York’s governor to bring more housing to the suburbs is not being greeted with joy by some Long Island leaders and residents:

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In New York, one such proposal from Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has run into howls of opposition in one of the birthplaces of the American suburb. Critics on Long Island, a sprawling expanse of communities home to 2.9 million people, are denouncing provisions that would set growth targets, drive denser development near train stations and sometimes let state officials override local zoning decisions.

“Her plan would flood YOUR neighborhood with THOUSANDS of new apartments” reads one opposition mailing. Others warn Long Island would become New York City’s “sixth borough.” Critics, many of them Republican officials, claim it would strip away local control…

If municipalities don’t meet targets, developers could pursue a process in which the state could allow projects to go forward. Another provision would require localities to rezone areas within a half-mile of commuter rail stations unless the area already meets density requirements…

A counter proposal from the Senate’s Democratic conference included a more incentive-heavy housing plan that excludes mandatory requirements and overrides of local zoning.

Hochul and legislative Democrats were trying to resolve their differences in negotiations over the budget, which was due April 1. That deadline has been extended into at least next week. The governor has described housing costs as a “core issue” that needs to be addressed.

Affordable housing is badly needed in the New York City region, as well as many metropolitan regions throughout the United States. How to encourage or mandate housing construction is under consideration in multiple states. When suburbanites move to the suburbs in part because of local government and control, how much can a state override local zoning and land use decisions?

Even without state level mandates, there is at least some interest in denser suburbs. Some want “surban” places that combine suburban and city life. Thriving suburban downtowns can bring in money and boost a community’s status.

So what really is at threat here is the sanctity of the single-family home neighborhood and its housing values. This might be the most sacred of suburban settings.

Take Levittown as one example. If Levittown’s density significantly increases, it will mark another stage in the evolution of the paradigmatic suburb. It started with the mass construction of a limited number of floor plans, the community changed over time as residents added to and changed the residences, and the homes became more valuable. Could the Levittown of 50 years from now be marked by significant amounts of multifamily housing?

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