This guest column is written by Julius Klein. He is a Long Island developer and Aquebogue resident.
In a letter in last week’s Riverhead News-Review, Nancy Gilbert and Richard Wines called for “civil discourse” with respect to Jamesport Village, the community I have proposed for our hamlet. Change can set off deep emotions. Strong supporters and dedicated opponents of any project are often well-intentioned but can be misinformed about a proposal’s particulars. As shovel gets close to hitting the ground in Jamesport, rumors fly and people worry. Richard and Nancy are right: We deserve an honest dialogue about Jamesport Village. So let me speak as the landholder.
A number of years ago, I purchased a large parcel of land in the heart of Jamesport. My intention was to create a centerpiece project that would provide a focal point for our community. Under the town’s master plan, any developer would be permitted to build up to 42,000 square feet of retail space on the land I own. That would include everything from a chain retailer to a bodega. I could pop up another nameless, faceless menagerie of shops, take a profit and go home. I’m not like that; that’s not my style. I live here and I want to see a project that stands out for its beauty and enhances our hamlet.
I have watched Long Island sprawl. I saw farm fields up-Island give way to nameless, faceless strip centers. I have seen developers with no reverence for the land slap up endless, prefabricated steel centers to house the next bagel store, next to the tanning salon, next to the nail salon, next to the pizza place. At my age, the last thing I want to be a part of is creating another concrete cavern just to make a buck. On Long Island, “development” has become a dirty word, maybe for good reason, but when I travel Suffolk County, I am struck by spots like Stony Brook Village, Port Jefferson, Patchogue and Huntington Village. In each of these places, new architecture blends with old, shopkeepers provide a center to Main Street and residents visit local merchants who actually know their names. Plantings bloom, walkways are cobblestoned, lighting is quaint and the buildings make you think they’ve been here since Long Island’s first days.
A lot has been made of the “bistros” I sought permits for at Jamesport Village. People say these restaurants will bring fast food to our hamlet. I get the worry. But don’t worry. If it serves food and it has a clown you talk into to place your order, or a cute dog as a mascot, or features a king or an arch and their workers wear paper hats, I’m not interested. I had my lawyer stipulate that in the resolution just passed by the Town Board. Strange as it seems, I am just trying to build a nice project.
I intend to be a good and cooperative neighbor. I am willing to donate parking right of ways so that pedestrians don’t have to stake life and limb crossing Main Road coming from other centers. If desired, I will make indoor and outdoor space available for community meetings and events. Before we even break ground, I have commissioned the most up-to-date traffic studies and environmental reports so that Jamesport Village will blend into the community.
I admit it. Sometimes I’m not crazy about change either. But time moves on. We need tax base and if you are like me, you look back years later at the shops and places in your community with fondness. When I was a kid I had my picture taken in front of the Plaza Hotel; it was built by a developer and development can be as ugly or as special as we allow it to be.
In Jamesport it would be nice to have a place where kids can ride their bikes to local shops, couples can sit and chat on benches, neighbors can meet neighbors, there is music and families linger over the day’s paper and a cup of coffee. That’s what I want Jamesport Village to be.