Long Island Construction Law does not own this content. This content was created by David Winzelberg, and was published to the Long Island Business News on May 18th, 2023. To view the full article, please click here.
In the drive to expand the diversity of housing opportunities on Long Island, developers have been focused on downtowns, buoyed by new zoning and communities’ desires for revitalizing underperforming areas. There have been more than 16,000 apartment units approved for Long Island downtowns since 2006 and there are more than 10,000 units currently going through the planning process, most located in downtown areas.
The explosion of new multifamily projects has created a lot of work for the area’s leading architecture firms, who have been tasked with designing buildings that attract tenants seeking convenience and an active lifestyle.
“We believe a key piece to the improvement of our downtowns isn’t just the inclusion of more multifamily, but specifically having great pieces of architecture to anchor our downtowns and to improve and beautify the surrounding areas,” says Joe Yacobellis, director of design for Greenvale-based Mojo Stumer Associates. “Especially when looking at the efforts to keep young professionals and new families on Long Island and encouraging them to set down roots in our communities, exciting buildings and creatively designed facades can help our downtowns feel more familiar and dynamic to them.”
Founded in 1980 by Thomas Mojo and Mark Stumer, Mojo Stumer’s early work focused on high-end homes on the North Shore and East End, as well as corporate interiors and office buildings, such as the Rubie’s building in Melville and the Luxottica headquarters in Port Washington.
In the past 10 years, the award-winning architecture firm has expanded to the multifamily residential sector, as Mojo Stumer has worked on about 20 Long Island multifamily projects, some of which are in development. Two currently under construction include a $50 million mixed-use project from JK Equities that will bring 54 apartments over 6,600 square feet of retail space on Warner Avenue in Roslyn and a $40 million, 40-unit luxury condo building from developer McKinley Homes called The Rose in Great Neck.
“We aim to create a level of architecture that raises the values of the neighborhood,” said Stumer. “Out on Long Island, people have settled for a lot of mediocrity in terms of building design. We want to change that.”
For example, the firm has integrated a large-format porcelain rain screen in the exterior design of the Warner Avenue project, which the architects say allows the building to breathe. But while Mojo Stumer is known for employing high-end finishes, Stumer says it’s not necessarily more expensive.
“Developers have a budget in mind, and we work hard to meet those budgets,” he said. “Because good design doesn’t have to cost more.”
Creating unique and functional rooftops is also becoming a popular design element for Long Island multifamily buildings. At The Rose, Mojo Stumer put a fitness center on the roof that’s partly inside and partly outside. The firm is also designing rooftop pickleball courts on a yet-to-be-announced Nassau County project.
“It’s great to have that supplemental lounge or event space on the roof as well,” Yacobellis said.
Attention to detail is critical. Aside from planning multifamily building exteriors, Yacobellis said the firm focuses on complete interior design of amenity spaces, common areas and the apartments themselves, right down to the art on the walls.
“It’s really a comprehensive project,” he said.
When it comes to multifamily development on Long Island, one of the most prolific firms is Beatty Harvey Coco Architects, which has designed dozens of multifamily buildings throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. The firm started designing for downtowns in its Baltimore office some 30 years ago and it has applied that experience to downtowns on Long Island.
BHC’s impressive multifamily project portfolio includes The Wel in Lindenhurst, The Shipyard in Port Jefferson, Shoregate in Bay Shore, Peconic Crossing in Riverhead, several buildings in the Wyandanch Village development, and over a dozen more, bringing a few thousand new apartment units to many of the Island’s up-and-coming downtowns.
The Melville-based firm is now working on several new projects, including the next phase of RXR’s Garvies Point development, with two new buildings totaling 157 apartments to be constructed in 2024.
“We strive to utilize that same level of design and planning quality going forward – and many of our clients have engaged us for that quality design and the depth of knowledge,” says Salvatore Coco, a BHC partner. “Our downtown designs, whether traditional or contemporary, are intended to fit into the existing context and to endure for years to come.”
Coco said the introduction of apartments and mixed-use developments has contributed to the current success of Long Island downtowns, and one of the biggest challenges is to make the projects appear as residential buildings, and not institutional or commercial.
“There are wonderful examples all over the world of four- and five-story buildings with shops on the ground floor and apartments above. So, we are not re-inventing anything here on Long Island,” Coco said. “The correct selection of materials and blending of colors whether as a unified single design or a collage of multiple styles still has to feel like residential, whether contemporary or traditional in style.”
Besides designing individual multifamily projects, BHC has also served as consultants to the Village of Westbury in creating new downtown zoning to attract sensible development around the Long Island Rail Road station.
“The new code went through multiple test fits, and we reviewed parking requirements based on similar types of projects,” Coco said. “This provided an informed view on the density and became part of the new zoning code.”
Coco added that there’s a balance between preserving the character and appeal of an existing downtown, while meeting the needs of today’s suburban lifestyles.
“Long Island’s downtowns provide service, entertainment and social functions,” he said. “In order to remain relevant, they need to be convenient to access through public transportation, pedestrian and/or by automobile.”
Alex Badalamenti, CEO of Patchogue-based bld Architecture, says the demand for housing is changing throughout Long Island and that the high cost of a house, high property taxes, renovation and maintenance expenses and the rising cost of borrowing money has created a paradigm shift.
“Young singles and couples, along with empty nesters are undecided where they want to live or for how long they want to stay,” Badalamenti said. “Many people are opting for rental or condo communities which provide modern amenities and offer more flexibility for a change.”
Badalamenti’s firm is currently working on multifamily projects totaling about 2,000 units across Long Island, including the $45 million, 54-unit Royal Blue luxury rental building in Mineola. He says today’s multifamily developments provide modern open-plan layouts, fully controlled heating and cooling, large amounts of natural daylight and beautiful landscaping.
Building amenities at many of these projects are more in line with luxury hotels, providing concierge services for deliveries and repairs, full WiFi and smart controls, and wide hallways.
“Focus is placed on social spaces with fitness rooms, meeting rooms, lounges for informal gatherings, outdoor private balconies and gardened terraces, water features, and landscaping,” Badalamenti said. “These communities are socially responsible, utilizing highly efficient equipment to reduce energy consumption, along with sustainable materials and initiatives.”
In addition to creating inviting living environments, Elissa Kyle, placemaking director for Vision Long Island, says good design also helps build public trust when projects are pitched to a community.
“These buildings are not just boxes that people live in or work in, they help shape the public space where social interactions happen and where people want to go and spend time,” Kyle says. “So, it’s not just about their use or maybe their particular aesthetic but creating space that’s really designed for humans on a very fundamental basis.”
Kyle said that where the building meets the sidewalk is where the most interaction happens.
“The amenities inside the building are great for the residents and there may be storefronts on the ground floor that the public comes and visits, but as you’re walking past the building, is there something about it that draws you to go inside?” she asked. “You want things to be active. People like to be where there are other people. You don’t want it to be a place where you feel like you’re just walking past blank. You want people coming and going and things happening on that ground-floor level.”
And if they’re designed properly, multifamily and mixed-use buildings become an integral ingredient in downtown revivals and boost the surrounding area.
“If they’re designed to play well with their neighbors, then they can lift everything up around it,” Kyle said. “It’s not a competition where it’s new buildings versus old buildings or suburban versus urban. It’s playing in harmony with what’s around it and lifting it up and bringing that human element back into the public space and the frontages around the building.”
John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: John@LIConstructionLaw.com or (631) 608-1346.
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David Winzelberg covers real estate, development, land use, retailing, franchising and white-collar crime for Long Island Business News.
An award-winning journalist who spent 20 years writing about Long Island for The New York Times, David’s work has also appeared in The Atlantic magazine, Forbes.com and has been featured on CNBC’s “American Greed.” A former adjunct professor of journalism and former editor of a weekly community newspaper, David is a frequent panelist and moderator at area business events.
He can reached via email at email@example.com or at (631) 913-4247.
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