By Village Tattler, on July 7th, 2010
Tuesday night’s Town Hall meeting was dominated by a spirited discussion of whether downzoning Huntington Station and allowing Avalon Bay’s proposed 490-unit development is good for the Town and Huntington Station. The Town Hall auditorium was packed with advocates on both sides of the issue, and while not everyone registered for a three-minute turn at the dais, enough did to stretch the meeting out over four hours to a late end well past 11:00. Ironically, a flicker in the power supply may have lent a merciful hand to keep the meeting from running even longer by temporarily knocking out the air conditioning. For every degree the temperature in the room rose, a couple more seats lost their residents, and the line of speakers shortened. The temperature of the debate was just as high as the scorching heat all day, hecklers and supporters on both sides of the downzoning issue were disruptive enough that Town Supervisor Frank Petrone had to threaten cancelling the public portion of the hearing. Invoking civility, Petrone insisted the crowd hold itself to a higher standard imploring, “Let’s all be Huntingtonians” and respectfully allow everyone the right to hold and express an opinion without being interrupted or jeered.
No downzoning vote
In a last-minute move several hours prior to the meeting, the Town Council removed a vote on downzoning from the meeting agenda. The Trustees themselves were divided on whether it was appropriate to further extend the deadline they impose upon themselves to vote on the issue. Ultimately they decided to extend the deadline to September with Supervisor Petrone and Councilwoman Jackson in opposition. Both indicated they did not feel an extension was in order, because there was still plenty of time within the existing deadline for more consideration of the issues surrounding downzoning. The supporters of extending the deadline noted that additional time will allow for Avalon Bay to hold 2 – 3 more public information sessions that were promised last night and Councilman Mark Mayoka noted that the additional time will also be helpful for the Council to understand whether or not a supermajority will be required to approve the downzoning proposal.
Avalon Bay VP, Development of Long Island explains the benefits his company’s proposed Huntington Station project will bring to the town
Avalon Bay spokesman Matt Whalen expressed his disappointment with the extended deadline while acknowledging the company has work to do in order to be “welcomed into the community”. He asked that interested parties attend the new information sessions AB will hold because the company feels that much opposition to the project is a result of misinformation and rumors that AB would like to address directly. The new info sessions have not yet been scheduled, but Whalen promised to keep everyone informed with updates on the AB website and elsewhere. Whalen went on to say that high-density housing is not a bad thing and in fact the large numbers of new residents that the proposed AB development would bring is a good and needed change for Huntington Station. AB and Whalen say that the influx of new residents will come at a low price to the schools because AB’s data indicates their development will add 84 – 95 kids to the district while building 109 single family homes as the current zoning allows for the property will add 120 – 135 kids.
What is the cost of this development to the rest of town?
Resident Charles Manos expressed skepticism with Whalen’s student projections. Manos claims it is more than a coincidence that the estimated property tax increase associated with the AB plan ($2,000,000 of which $1,600,000 will go to the school district) so closely matches the estimated additional cost to the school (80 kids X $20,000/year = $1,600,000). Manos suggested that the number had been reverse-engineered and in the process the projected number of students lowered so that the projected school district costs for the new kids would not exceed the projected new school district revenue that will result from the development. Manos says the district should expect the project would add between 170 and 230 kids – a number consistent with the nearby Highview development. Using the midpoint, 200 new students, Manos says the cost of these new kids to the district will be $4,000,000 leaving the district with an annual shortfall of $2,400,000 between the new tax revenue stream and the new students costs. Manos said he’s sympathetic to those looking for affordable housing, but pointed out that “in the interest of affordability, every other house in the district becomes less affordable” because the houses in the rest of the district will see their taxes rise to cover the shortfall he predicts AB will create.
Other cost concerns raised by residents include sewage, traffic and abatement of toxic chemicals in the parcel’s soil. Park Avenue resident Loretta Luiguino says she’s wanted to hook into the sewer district for years and called AB “line jumpers” for being given permission to hook 490 new housing units to the town sewers before the homes in her neighborhood. Several residents of Huntington Country Farms, which is adjacent to the proposed development, described existing traffic patterns in the neighborhood as “at capacity” and asked how adding another 700 – 1000 cars in AB could be accommodated without bringing Park Avenue to a standstill and overwhelming Huntington Village parking lots when the new residents inevitably drive into town for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Advocates of AB voiced themes of smart growth, the need for affordable housing and the notion that a large number of hardworking, taxpaying new Huntingtonians living next to the train station will bring energy, eyeballs and cash that will combat crime and blight in Huntington Station not to mention being a boon to businesses in the Station and the rest of Huntington. A number of civic and business groups were represented as supporting the AB development including the League of Women Voters, Huntington Chamber of Commerce, the Huntington Housing Coalition, Vision Long Island and the Long Island Progressive Coalition. Former Huntington resident Maritza Silva-Farrell of the LIPC explained how she and her family had to leave Huntington and move to Brooklyn because they could not find affordable housing in Town.
Centerport residents Mike White, Tim White and Jeff Love say Avalon Bay should be allowed to build in Huntington Station
Many AB supporters carrying YIMBY signs echoed the LIPC call for more affordable housing to prevent a brain drain that they say is causing Huntington’s young people to move elsewhere in search of more affordable housing. YIMBYs Mike White, Tim White and Jeff Love are Centerport residents and Harborfields HS grads living with their parents and looking for affordable digs so they can stay in town. When asked to quantify “affordable”, the White brothers noted that student housing at SUNY Stony Brook runs $500 – $700/mo and that something under $1,000/mo fits their affordable definition. By all appearances these are the kind of bright, energetic young people the town should be encouraging to stay. Hitting their pricepoint for housing may be a stretch as even the lowest priced one bedroom units proposed by AB will cost more than $1,000/mo. On the other hand, a search on Craig’s List for Huntington apartments priced $1,000/mo or less returned 90 results this morning.
Huntington Station Resident Ira Trane who lives nearby the proposed development expressed his concern that a small group of vocal naysayers will successfully derail a proposal he supports wholeheartedly and believes will be of significant benefit to Huntington Station and the Town. Station resident Sarah Lansdale also supports the proposal because of the range of housing it offers and it is in walking distance to the train station, which she believes will cut down on traffic. Supporter and Station resident Barbara Joe Kingsley pointed out that in her opinion those in favor of AB had been more polite and quieter throughout the evening, but that the town council should not mistake that for meaning there are fewer AB supporters in the Station than opponents.
Is a crowded hollow still a sweet hollow?
As the meeting wound down, Alyssa Sue Taff, Sweet Hollow Civic Association’s President, explained how there have been multiple high-density developments in South Huntington. She says that individually, they are not problematic and many are well run. Her concern is that the cumulative impact of these developments adds to the congestion, pollution and what she believes is an already over-crowded Long Island. Taff fears that downzoning a square mile of Huntington Station will accelerate this trend by making it easier for multiple high-density projects to move forward in the neighborhood and that even if AB is a positive on its own, continuing to add density to the Station is not a good long-term plan.
All VT Avalon coverage here.