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Downtown to connect community, Stony Brook University

Route 25A near train station would get overhaul, attract new businesses, become pedestrian-friendly

The Stony Brook train station building is in the center of the downtown area that is targeted for redesign. Photo by Erika Karp

September 06, 2012 | 10:32 AM
In an effort to improve safety and create a thriving business district, Brookhaven Town and a planning committee are looking for a master planner or developer to create a one-mile downtown area along Route 25A and near the Stony Brook railroad station, which will connect Stony Brook University and the surrounding community.

The town, along with the Stony Brook Safety, Beautification and Improvement Planning Committee, is asking for requests for qualifications from master planners and developers, the specifics of which will be available Sept. 13. Some of the project's goals include bringing in new businesses, including restaurants, offices and retail stores — with a common design — improving visitor safety by making the area pedestrian-friendly and creating a visually appealing place for the community to enjoy. The area under consideration runs from just west of the railroad station to Bennetts Road in Setauket — just a little more than one mile.

The plan calls for creating an overlay district. Most of the land in the area is zoned for business and there are a few large swaths of state-owned land.

Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket) are spearheading the project and reached out to community and civic leaders, as well as members of the Stony Brook University community, to make up the planning committee. Lesko, who will be leaving his post Sept. 14 to head up the economic growth initiative Accelerate Long Island, said that the process for the project would be similar to the Ronkonkoma Hub redevelopment plan.

"Really you are talking about a community-based, [and] lead planning process," Lesko said.

The committee will lead the land-use planning process and will make recommendations to the Brookhaven Town Board on master planners and or developers.

Herb Mones, past president of the Three Village Civic Association and member of the planning committee, said that the plan is an exciting opportunity to make the 25A corridor more attractive and safer for the community.

"We have the opportunity to make some very aggressive, attractive changes in the next few years that would transform the community," Mones said. "That would normally take decades."

Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley said the university is incredibly excited about the project and that is vital for the university in a number of ways.

"I think it's something that's been missing from the campus probably since the beginning," Stanley said. "To have community involvement right from the beginning, I think is critical to get this kind of thing happening."

Stanley said that a major concern of his is the safety of students who are venturing off campus and hopes that this project will improve safety conditions.

In November 2011, a Stony Brook student was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bike off campus and in 2010 a student was killed while he was crossing Nicolls Road.

There is also the possibility for future public/private partnerships between the town and the university, especially when looking at housing development. In addition, the project will collaborate with the university's plans to build new residence halls close to the railroad.

In a January phone interview, Englebright said that housing is the "Achilles' heel" for Stony Brook's further growth.

"We need to establish a new design for how the boundaries of the campus relate to the surrounding community and vice versa," Englebright said.

Plans to develop a downtown in the area have been discussed for many years. According to Bob de Zafra, a Stony Brook professor emeritus and member of the committee, former university president John Marburger had created a university relations committee to discuss similar ideas.

While de Zafra doesn't think the process will always be completely smooth, he thinks it is a great occasion to have better communication between the university and community.

While Lesko will be leaving his position soon, in August he said that he would still have a significant interest in the project.

"The notion of creating a college town … with community support … the mix is really exciting," he said.

Rachel Shapiro contributed reporting.

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