Revitalization Case Study – Wyandanch Rising
Cover Image Credit: Regional Plan Association.
Transforming a disadvantaged suburban downtown into an award winning retrofit
The American dream of owning a single family detached home away from the central city once rooted itself in Long Island, New York, a sprawling network of bedroom communities dedicated to affluent up and coming families. However, recent demographic, economic and housing trends have shown the suburbs are not as glorious of a place as they once were perceived to be.
Wyandanch, a suburban hamlet located less than an hour east of New York City’s Penn Station in the Town of Babylon, has been struggling to combat a number of social  and economic  problems that earned it the title of Long Island’s most economically distressed community. The neighborhood’s internal problems have become evident in the deteriorating quality of the neighborhood’s built environment.
One of the most evident characteristics of Wyandanch’s deteriorating conditions are the number of vacant buildings within its downtown area and its surrounding residential neighborhood. In addition, the character of downtown Wyandanch’s existing retail development contributed to the area’s decline as it failed to create a sense of place for the surrounding community.
The abundance and poor urban design of the off-street parking in downtown Wyandanch destroyed whatever urban fabric the neighborhood could have had. Existing parking lots separate land uses and distance pedestrians on the sidewalk from retail buildings, diminishing any sense of a human-scale community.
Vacant retail properties along Straight Path, Wyandanch’s main commercial road. In 2007, the Long Island Index reported that Wyandanch had a commercial vacancy rate of 16%, a difference of almost 10% in comparison to other downtown areas in Suffolk County which average 7% vacancy rate.
Vacancy appeared low within the Wyandanch Rising project area and Wyandanch’s residential census blocks in 2000, but 2010 census data shows a large increase in vacancy rates in and around the project site (U.S. Census – H003  & H3 Occupancy Status ).
As a way to combat Wyandanch’s growing problems, local government officials undertook an extensive revitalization effort in 2003 called Wyandanch Rising, a 5-day community planning event that attracted over 500 local residents and stakeholders. After the end of the summit the Town of Babylon used the feedback they received to develop Wyandanch’s first comprehensive plan.
From this initiative, the Wyandanch Rising redevelopment project was born. The project aims to transform the town’s depressed downtown area into a vibrant, pedestrian friendly, mixed use neighborhood with the Long Island Rail Road commuter rail station serving as the catalyst for development.
The Stage 2 LEED-ND Certified Brownfield plan embraces principles of transit-oriented development (TOD) and smart growth in order to create a pedestrian friendly and environmentally sustainable mixed-use downtown for a traditionally suburban neighborhood that had never had one. The first phase of the project will feature the site’s landmark intermodal transit center and incorporate mixed-use elements such as 150 rental and 90 condo units, 50,000 square feet of retail of retail, and small portions of office space by the fall of 2012.
By the project’s completion, Wyandanch Rising will feature 121,320 square feet of retail, 884 dwelling units of apartments (922,203 square feet) where 575 will be rental units (with 175 available up to 60% AMI and 115 available up to 80% AMI), and 309 will be owner-occupied units (62 available up to 80% AMI, 123 up to 100% AMI and 123 up to 120%). Residential density will be approximately 9 dwelling units per gross acre. In addition, the revitalization will include a rehabilitation of the nearby Geiger Park, the creation a Station Plaza (2.6 acres), separate village greens, and a 6-level 2,000 car-park.
The project is anchored by the Wyandanch Long Island Railroad (LIRR) Station that will soon become an inter-modal transit center with connections between the LIRR, Suffolk County Transit, taxis, pedestrians, and bicyclists. In order to support these connections and create a pedestrian friendly environment, traffic calming techniques, bike lanes, bike parking, better-lit sidewalks, and on-street parking will play an integral part of the plan.
Images from Torti Gallas and Partners (1,2,4) and the Regional Plan Association (3). Pedestrian friendly urban design techniques such as placing parking behind buildings (a) and utilizing planting, bike lanes, and medians (b) will slow traffic in an effort to make the area a safer place for pedestrians.
In addition, the plan calls for the creation of two unique open spaces that will serve as secondary anchors for development. Station Plaza and Wyandanch Green will be surrounded by mixed use buildings that integrate retail uses at ground floor with residential and office space above. Straight Path is to be converted from a sea of parking lots into Wyandanch’s new retail main street that will feature mixed use buildings with retail uses at ground floors. In this case, retail will be utilized to activate a once lifeless, vehicular-centric corridor into a vibrant, pedestrian friendly street.
Challenges to Overcome
The plan’s goal is simple, to create a pedestrianized, transit-oriented downtown where locals can live, work, and play. Considering the project’s positioning in terms of its context and competitors, there are a number of challenges that the project faces:
- How can it position itself in a way that would differentiate itself from its local competitors to make it a place that people will call their own?
- What different services/goods/experiences/or retailers can a mixed use town center offer that its competitors cannot? I.E: Westfield Group’s two centers only offer an indoor mall experience where a town center can feature amenities like outdoor seating for nearby workers, picnic furniture during warm months, and al fresco dining facilities.
- What anchors or new to market retail/entertainment concepts should be included to foster movement between the new town center?
- Where should retail tenants be placed to create the best synergy?
Development Success Factors
Despite the number of risks associated with the challenges facing this development, the Wyandanch Rising development has a unique opportunity to bring the distressed community a sense of a pride by being developed into something the locals can call their own. In order to overcome these challenges, creative solutions and a unique market positioning are required.
Creating a positioning strategy would require a feasibility study process similar to the one outlined below. This analysis helps provide a deeper understanding of the project’s context, competition, and local demographics.
The market analysis conducted by AKRF for the project touches the surface of this process.
The Wyandanch Rising project has been recognized nationally by several authorities  for its success in embracing principles of both smart growth and sustainable development. This project may also serve as a premier development benchmark for a number of other reasons:
1. A Transparent and Open Planning Process – the town undertook a tremendous effort that involved several participatory community meetings to get residents and stakeholders on board. Community input was solicited for the initial weekend visioning summit that attracted over 500 residents and stakeholders as well as other meetings that solicited feedback for the form-based code. Through out the process, community newsletters and e-mails were send to update the community on the progress of the project in addition to any upcoming community meetings. The Town of Babylon also established the Wyandanch Rising Implementation Committee, a group of community leaders and stakeholders who would continue the post-planning process.
In response to a question on advice for others looking to undertake similar projects, Town of Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone commented, “It is vital to work with the community from the very beginning and establish clear goals and a vision. No revitalization, sustainable, or otherwise, can be successful without the support of the community.”
Implementation Implications: Any redevelopment – whether it be a small or large scale, public or privately owned development – has the potential to impact and influence the lives of nearby trade area residents whom are working or living nearby. Before taking the risk and building something without consulting residents and workers who live their lives within the context of the project’s trade area, it should be a top priority to involve future customers and neighbors and make them feel like a part of the process.
A transparent and open planning process may also prove to be a useful marketing tool for generating future interest in the project. As the Town of Babylon has successfully has done, the residents of Wyandanch felt like a part of the project, became involved, and kept up with current events through e-mail and newsletters. Considering current technology and internet trends, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs should be utilized to keep interest in the project, provide updates, and solicit feedback to gain better insight to future customer wants and needs.
2. Opening of Community Resource Center – the town opened the center in 2009 to train residents for future jobs that would come to the area. Other services include: small business development for prospective local business owners, GED-equivalency programs, and job training / placement services. In addition, residents can also drop by to learn about the project and get involved. You can visit the Community Resource Center’s page on LinkedIn.
Implementation Implications: Depending on the characteristics of trade area residents and workers, it may or may not be integral to provide a resource center. The idea of having a place where residents, stakeholders, and other community members may learn about the project would be a part of maintaining a transparent and open planning process as stated above.
3. New to Market Product – the post-World War II suburban neighborhood never had a downtown to call their own. The creation of a neighborhood downtown that offers residents opportunities to shop, eat, and live locally would introduce new to market lifestyle and retail concepts to its trade area residents.
Implementation Implications: Despite having an advantage of a new to market product, trade area characteristics should guide the merchandise and tenant mix plan as it is important to cater to the customer – not the other way around. Developments that have ignored this rule like the upscale lifestyle center, The Shops at Atlas Park [Source 2 - 2012] in Queens, New York, have suffered the consequences.
 Long Island’s 25-34 year old population dropped by 22%. In addition, 154 jobs are lost a day on Long Island. In terms of affordable housing, young people making average salaries can’t afford 97% of homes on Long Island. (Long Island Index).
 Violent Crimes (per 1,000 residents), Property Crime, and Crimes per Square Mile statistics for Wyandanch are all significantly higher than both the New York State and national average (Neighborhood Scout – as of March 2012).
 Home sales have plummeted by over $200,000 since 2006 while the number of home sales have gradually shown a steady decline by about 80 homes per quarter in 2006 to less than 20 per quarter (City-Data – as of March 2012).
 Area Median Income (AMI) is based off of HUD estimates of median household income with adjustments for family size to determine the eligibility of applicants for federally and locally funded programs. It’s used to define affordability of housing. For example, the lower the percent the AMI is (e.g. from Wyandanch Rising: 123 units at 120% AMI), the more poverty stricken the area is. Policy Link defines areas earning between 120 and 80 percent AMI as “moderate-income: below 80 percent AMI, “low-income”; below 50 percent AMI, “very low-income” and below 30 percent AMI, “extremely low-income.”