For Michael Dawson, the new one-bedroom apartment he rents in the last building of the Wyandanch Village development is a godsend.
After years of tossing around, renting rooms in single-family homes and other temporary living arrangements, the 77-year-old thinks he’s finally found a decent place to hang his hat.
“It’s a blessing,” says Dawson, a percussionist who still plays with three different bands. “There are not enough affordable developments for seniors, so this is important.”
Dawson was among state, county and local officials, developers, community leaders and residents who attended a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month for the 94-unit senior affordable apartment complex at 11 Park Drive, the fourth building to be completed on the ongoing Wyandanch Village project.
The affordable rental building is for people 62 and older who earn between 30 and 70 percent of the area median income, and offers studio and one-bedroom apartments for monthly rents ranging from $650 to $1,579. Amenities at the new transit-oriented development, located just steps from the Wyandanch Long Island Rail Road Station, include a fitness center, lounge, courtyard, and community garden.
The $40 million project was developed by a partnership of the Garden City-based Albanese Organization and the nonprofit Selfhelp Realty Group, an affiliate of Manhattan-based Selfhelp Community Services.
In 2011, the Albanese Organization was selected as a master developer by the City of Babylon to reimagine 40 acres around the Wyandanch LIRR station. The company broke ground on the first building in 2013, and nearly a decade later, the project to revitalize one of Long Island’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods continues to move forward.
The origins of the public/private partnership, first named Wyandanch Rising, actually began with conversations among community members about two decades ago. One of those involved early on was Suffolk County Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter, who grew up on Grand Boulevard and lived in Wyandanch for 25 years. She credits Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, then Babylon Town Supervisor, with being the driving force behind the revitalization effort and organizing the vision process.
“It was run by the government, but the community came together to imagine what they wanted to see in the village of Wyandanch, which I think was really important,” Baird-Streeter said. “So it wasn’t the government that said this is what we’re going to create, but the government working with the community to really bring the vision of the community members to life.”
In the run-up to the project, the city rounded up more than 70 mostly blighted properties and orchestrated a land swap with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that allowed for the construction of a 920-space passenger parking lot to clear the way for development. To date, Albanese has delivered four residential buildings with a total of 395 apartments, nearly 35,000 square feet of retail space, a community resource center, and a community plaza with a seasonal ice skating rink.
Most of the buildings were designed by Salvatore Coco of Melville-based BHC Architects and engineering for the development has been provided by Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering.
“It’s a great project,” said John Cameron, founder and managing partner of Cameron Engineering. “The Albanian Organization has distinguished itself by seeing this through to the end.”
Russell Albanese, president of the Garden City-based Albanese Organization, said the company recognized Wyandanch as an opportunity to partner with the city and bring its expertise to help revitalize the community.
“The town was looking for good planning, good architecture, high quality construction and the community had gone through a very long vision process and their own planning process with the town. So everyone, including the community, got behind the project, and that was really what attracted us,” Albanese told LIBN. “We weren’t facing a lot of the challenges that developers face on Long Island and elsewhere, where there’s a lot of opposition from the community. We felt that it was an opportunity to make an investment that, in the long term, would be good for the company and for the community.”
These days, it’s been good for Keith Banks, a Wyandanch Village resident who also owns the Sir Shave salon located in a 1,500-square-foot space in the development’s retail complex on Station Drive.
“Downtown is very busy. We have the residents who are upstairs, which is great because we also get a lot of that traffic,” said Banks, who is also a business and personal finance executive at Melville. “There’s a lot going on throughout the year, a lot of marketing, a lot of promotions, a lot of different events, skating coming back, a lot of free concerts, so there’s a lot that continues to contribute traffic. in the area so it’s a great location.”
Banks originally planned to open the barbershop in Brooklyn, but the revitalization effort drew him to Wyandanch, following in the footsteps of his mom and dad.
“My parents had a business here in the early ’80s. They had a beauty supply store and a record store, so I knew the area,” she said. “But when I heard about the whole Wyandanch Rising project, I said this is something that is a great opportunity to give back to the community in a more positive way.”
Attorney Ghenya Grant, president of the Greater Wyandanch Chamber of Commerce, said that while the development is a positive step toward revitalization in the area around the train station, she would like to see more investment in more parts of the community.
“Millions of dollars have been invested in that specific project and there is a shortage of resources in many aspects that go elsewhere,” he said. “We would like to see the business community develop beyond that area. Everything being focused on that particular area is something we’d like to see changed a little bit.”
Grant added that he would like to see Wyandanch have a central business district and wants more security to keep the neighborhood safe, because crime has long been a concern. He also mentioned that redevelopment should focus on the south side of the LIRR tracks, and that is where many of Wyandanch Village’s future projects are headed.
Albanese said construction is expected to begin in January on a $140 million mixed-use building at the corner of Straight Path and Long Island Avenue on the south side of the LIRR station. The five-story project, the first in Phase 2 of the development, will bring 218 affordable apartments on approximately 8,700 square feet of community facility space and should be completed in approximately two years.
Following that, Albanese will develop a 100,000-square-foot health and wellness center building that will be owned by the city, with approximately 65,000 square feet occupied by the YMCA of Long Island and the remainder occupied by Sun River Health. The project will be located just east of the plaza on the north side of the station. Albanese expects to start construction in “early to mid-2023” with completion taking about 18 months.
Back on the south side, the city is planning a green space and park, complete with a playground, community garden and dog park. Just east of that, Albanese plans to build around 70 row houses for sale.
Eventually, there will be another apartment building on the north side, to be built on the existing gravel and dirt lot between Straight Path and Park Drive.
“There are a lot of moving pieces that are moving forward and we are moving forward in the planning department with reviewing new buildings,” Babylon Planning Commissioner Rachel Scelfo said. “It’s very active in a number of different ways, with new buildings on the horizon, so that’s very positive.”
“Many of our residents consist of many families and individuals who have lived in the community for a long time, and the development has also brought new people to the community,” he said. “It provided affordable housing for families who really need affordable housing, through moderate workforce and market rate housing.”
However, there is much more to come.
“We have about 10 years left,” Albanese said.