Lee Koppelman, a visionary pioneer of suburban urban planning who helped shape Long Island’s parks, roads, transit and economic centers, died Monday at age 94.
He died of natural causes at Stony Brook University Hospital, the establishment of which he supported, his daughter Lesli Ross told Newsday.
Koppelman, Suffolk County’s first planning director and first leader of what is now the Long Island Regional Planning Council, came up with many of the “groundbreaking” ideas that made Long Island what it is today. today, former colleagues said.
Koppelman, who spent four decades as Long Island’s planning czar, helped preserve tens of thousands of acres of open space and farmland.
He helped extend the Long Island Freeway east from Melville and Sunrise Highway in the Hamptons, while advocating for public bus systems, former colleagues said.
Koppelman worked to create the Ronkonkoma Industrial Hub around MacArthur Airport, the Hauppauge Industrial Park, and the Cohalan Court complex in Central Islip.
And he was so influential as an environmentalist — he helped preserve pine barrens and mapped how to manage coastal areas — that he has reservations in Montauk and Setauket named after him.
“Long Island just lost a giant,” said Kevin Law, friend and former student, executive vice president and partner of TRITEC Real Estate and former president of the Long Island Association.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said officials are still building on Koppelman’s ideas, including investing in building sewers and creating transit corridors.
“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainability on Long Island was well ahead of its time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives that we continue to this day,” Bellone said in a statement Tuesday.
Koppelman was born in May 1927 in Manhattan to parents Max and Madelyn, who owned a greenhouse in Queens and a flower shop on Madison Avenue, Ross said. He attended Bryant High School in Astoria, where he grew up.
When he was 17, he met his future wife, Connie, then 13, at a performance by a youth group at the synagogue in which she sang. They eloped in July 1947 and were married about a year later.
In 1945 he joined the US Navy and served for a year, Ross said.
Koppelman is a graduate of the City College of New York. He received a master’s degree from the Pratt Institute and a doctorate in public administration from New York University.
Koppelman owned a landscape architect business, Ross said, and in 1952 he moved to Hauppauge, where he built a house. He then spent many years in Smithtown and the Setauket area.
His planning career began when Suffolk County Executive H. Lee Dennison offered him the position of Suffolk’s first planning director.
He held this position from 1960 to 1988 and headed the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board from 1965 to 2006.
He has written three master plans for the Long Island area. He envisioned development around creating shopping mall communities along major thoroughfares, said former longtime colleague Seth Forman.
Koppelman believed that the physical environment “much affects humanity, and he wanted to participate in shaping it for the public good,” said Forman, now editor of a National Association of Scholars journal.
But some of his recommendations, including building 100,000 affordable homes in Nassau and Suffolk, have been ignored or met with public opposition, former colleagues have said.
“He had at least as many losses as he had wins,” Forman said.
Koppelman was a popular professor at Stony Brook University and director of its Center for Regional Policy Studies.
He continued to teach at Stony Brook until the last semester, said political science department chair Leonie Huddy.
Koppelman is survived by his wife and four children, Lesli Ross of Boca Raton, Florida, Claudia Koppelman of Northampton, Massachusetts, Laurel Heard of St. Louis, and Keith Koppelman of upstate Gardiner; and three grandchildren.
A funeral will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown. He will be buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing.
A public shiva will be held Friday, Sunday and Monday at 1 Jefferson Ferry Drive, South Setauket, from 1 to 5 p.m.
The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Hadassah or to the Doctors Connie and Lee Koppelman Endowed Fellowship Fund in Political Science through the Stony Brook Foundation.