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A Smart future for Middle Country

Coalition releases plan to develop downtown identities, beautify and bring visitors to Selden, Centereach

March 27, 2009 | 05:50 AM
Plan in hand, the Middle Country Coalition for Smart Growth is putting shovels in the ground in its rejuvenation efforts for downtown Selden and Centereach.

Developed over the past two and half years with visioning firm Sustainable Long Island, the Coalition — a collection of representatives from Middle Country schools, civics, institutions and business — unveiled its Sustainable Community Plan Saturday at Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. The plan aims to develop downtown identities for Selden and Centereach, attract pedestrians and business to the communities and increase aesthetic quality, safety and environmental conservation.

The scheme includes recommendations for the near and long term. The former include planned alterations to the two hamlets' main thoroughfare, Route 25, aimed at increasing pedestrian traffic and motorist safety, along with efforts by local civic groups to develop neighborhood parks and attract desired businesses.

Installation of sewers, a costly major recommendation of the Coalition, would expand the possibilities for the hamlet's downtown areas. Although years away at best, the group's long-range goals include redeveloping anchor shopping centers — Independence Plaza in Selden and the center housing Wal-Mart in Centereach — into walkable suburban city centers with an influx of new businesses, restaurants and even apartments over stores. The latter is sought by Centereach civic leaders, although not by those of Selden.

The effort would dovetail with the Brookhaven 2030 revitalization plan. Indeed, a centerpiece of Middle Country social activity, the town-operated Centereach pool, will see the addition of a youth recreational center and become home to Brookhaven Parks Department administrative offices. Other open-space proposals include expanding the Levitt ballfields at the intersection of Wireless and Hawkins roads, and investing in Centereach's Hobbs Farm, where a group of volunteers are rapidly transforming the landmark property into a produce farm supplying local food pantries and an outdoor classroom in agriculture and sustainable living.

But residents are making a number of beautification efforts in the meanwhile. One, spoken of with eager anticipation by a number of Coalition members, is a 4-by-8-foot electronic sign intended to serve as a community bulletin board. The sign, which should be erected within the next few months in Centereach on the north side of Route 25 outside the Wal-Mart shopping center, will be a clearinghouse for clubs and events.

In addition to promoting social events, the goal of the bulletin board, to be surrounded by a brick frame, is beautification. It should help in "eliminating all the visual garbage of the signs on Middle Country Road," said Centereach Civic Association President Diane Caudullo, referring to the plethora of flyers announcing sports signups, music events and the like stuck to utility poles and fences along the thoroughfare.

All information displayed on the sign will also be available at a Middle Country website, www.mymiddlecountry.com, Caudullo added.

Her group is also enthused about plans to build a medical office park at the southwest corner of Route 25 and Nicolls Road. Construction is set to begin in May.

In addition to bringing much-needed medical and pharmaceutical services to the area, increased traffic for the industrial park will bring more business for local retailers and restaurants, Caudullo said, while adding to the Middle Country School District's tax base without increasing enrollment.

Centereach also stands to reap large benefits from the roadwork on Route 25 between Route 347 and Nicolls Road planned for later this year. The state DOT will be installing turning lanes, moving utility poles, expanding sidewalks, reducing curb cuts and improving crosswalks in an effort to boost pedestrian and motorist safety, according to Coalition members. In particular, dedicated turn lanes and fewer curb cuts should reduce danger posed by cars turning across the busy, four-lane road, according to Coalition co-Chairman John Hoctor, also a Middle Country Public Library trustee.

The Coalition is lobbying the state to install crosswalks that stand out, made of "different types of pavement so you could see" them, said Hoctor.

"Right now there's nothing on Middle Country Road for pedestrians," he said. "We need real demarcations for crossing the street."

In Selden, civics are having success in encouraging Route 25 stores to adopt aesthetic changes to differentiate the hamlet from surrounding communities. Selden Civic Association President Debbie Felber said a campaign to have businesses adopt a "natural color pallete" — i.e. tan, beige, clay — has been "received very well." Selden Civic members asked an incoming Rita's Ices to alter its franchise look to include peaked roofs and a clapboard exterior, and the business has "really conformed to the whole thing," Felber said.

[Many area residents still errantly believe Centereach ends and Selden begins at Nicolls Road, heading east on Route 25, according to Felber, when in reality the border is at Marshall Drive.]

While renovating and expanding commercial and cultural offerings at Independence Plaza will require time and sewers, the Selden civic is already taking steps to boost the central shopping center's charms. The landlord has given the organization a one-acre plot between the main parking lot and Route 25 for transformation into a park; volunteers are sprucing it up with flower pots and benches. "We're hoping to create a cozy meeting place for people to stop, and stay and shop," Felber said.

Other steps the Selden civic is taking to fashion an identity for the hamlet are restoring Ruland Farm, a 14-acre historic site off Route 25 complete with ancient graveyard, and posting "Welcome to Selden" banners bearing the purple lupine flower native to the region.

"Now we have something that identifies us with our community," Felber said.

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