Lee Koppelman, a master planner and visionary who helped shape the development of Long Island while serving in several roles at Stony Brook University, died March 22 at the age of 94.
Koppelman was a leading professor and professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, where he taught courses in the Master of Arts in Public Policy program into his final months. He joined Stony Brook as an adjunct professor soon after the 1965 founding of the Marine Sciences Research Center, the precursor to the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), where he was professor emeritus. He was also executive director of Stony Brook’s Center for Regional Policy Studies.
After launching his career as a successful landscape architect, Koppelman was drawn into the then-novel field of urban planning during the late 1950s when, as president of the Hauppauge Civic Association, he drew up a comprehensive plan that aimed to balance the preservation of open spaces with the burgeoning needs of industry and residential developers. That seminal document led to long-term government posts in the Suffolk County Planning Department (1960-1988) and as Nassau-Suffolk County Regional Planning Board executive director (1965-2006). In this capacity, he steered the decisions that protected the Island’s open spaces and water quality from the effects of runaway development; championed mass transportation, diverse housing, economic development and the environment; and helped manage suburban sprawl in one of America’s fastest-growing communities.
“Lee Koppelman was one of the nation’s most eminent urban planners and the chief planner of Long Island for over 40 years,” said Leonie Huddy, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “He promoted environmental sustainability on Long Island and was instrumental in guiding Long Island’s land use and development regulation, promoting affordable housing and the expansion of its transit system. He was also a leading member of the Stony Brook Political Science Department for over five decades and trained generations of local and regional leaders and policy analysts. He will be sorely missed.”
Koppelman’s major research concerned the environmental policy aspects of regional planning, specifically directed toward coastal zone management. He was project manager over almost $20 million in directed research, including coastal regional planning, comprehensive water management, shoreline erosion practices, and related studies. In addition to the development of legislation related to coastal zone management and the design of administrative mechanisms for policy implementation, Koppelman was also involved in the development of synthesis techniques for relating coastal zone science into the regional planning process.
In October 1988, he was appointed director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies, which carried out a number of research projects dealing with governmental productivity, strategic economic planning, and environmental planning. He also served as executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board.
In July 2015, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone awarded Koppelman the Suffolk Medal for Distinguished Service, the county’s highest honor. In 2018, the Town of Brookhaven dedicated a 46-acre parcel of woodlands in Setauket in his honor, creating the Lee H. Koppelman Nature Preserve. In 2019, Koppelman’s life and work was celebrated in the short documentary Koppelman, the work of SoMAS students Megan Gallagher and Anna Smith.
A public shiva will be held March 25, 27 and 28 at 1 Jefferson Ferry Drive, South Setauket, from 1 pm to 5 pm. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Hadassah or the Doctors Connie and Lee Koppelman Endowed Fellowship Fund in Political Science through the Stony Brook Foundation.