Copiague warehouse demolished to build affordable apartments

Nicholas Spangler, Staff Writer

“Demolition ended Friday at the downtown Copiague site where a developer plans to build Copiague Commons, a 90-unit affordable rental apartment complex.

With Babylon Town officials and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on hand, a backhoe leveled the last of what had been the All-Pro Horticulture warehouse, a low cinder block structure steps away from the Long Island Rail Road at 55 Railroad Ave.

A block-long pile of rubble remained. Plans call for Rochester-based Conifer Realty to build two four-floor buildings with 56 one-bedroom and 34 two-bedroom apartments. Construction of the $33 million project is to be complete by next spring. The company closed on the two-acre parcel in December, with a sale price of $5 million, town officials said.

The income-restricted apartments will rent for $1,193 to $1,450 for one-bedroom units and $1,431 to $1,850 for two-bedrooms. Project funding comes from New York State, Suffolk County, the Community Development Corporation of Long Island and private sources.

Community reception has been mixed, with some residents worried about congestion and demand for services but broad support from business owners, civic groups and elected officials.

“This is a great step forward,” said Bellone, who began pushing for mixed-use development of the hamlet’s downtown years ago when he was Babylon Town supervisor. That type of construction, which combined apartments and businesses, were initially controversial but are now accepted, he said.

Bellone and other officials say mixed-use development will remake much of the suburban landscape. Along with Ronkonkoma, Wyandanch and Patchogue, Copiague will one day take its place as an “innovation hub” connected by rail and rapid bus to other hubs that is dense with housing, jobs and recreation opportunities, he said.

Apartments are an important first step, he said, putting “feet on the street” to attract retail and services that will revitalize an unincorporated community of 23,000 where the median household income of $69,008 trails the rest of the town by about 12 percent.

Town officials said they hope to trade density incentives for affordable housing, community spaces and streetscape improvements under new zoning for downtown Copiague that the Babylon Town Board approved last year.

The Conifer project is the first — and so far only — project begun under the rezoning. Town officials say they’ve had interest from Copiague property owners who may partner with developers or engage in smaller projects themselves and that they expect more.

“One year on the development time scale is a blink of an eye,” said Jonathan Keyes, the town’s director of downtown revitalization.

“We’re on the right path,” said Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez. But the success of Copiague Commons is critical, he said. “Developers and businessmen would like to see how the first project goes.””