The Huntington Town Board rejected a rezoning proposal Tuesday night in a 3-2 vote that would have created a “transit-oriented district” to allow a developer, AvalonBay Communities, to build 490 apartment units on 26 acres in Huntington Station.
The decision came after months of increasingly heated wrangling as opposition grew to the proposed apartment complex, and the issue became caught up in local town politics. The developer had promised to set aside at least 20 percent of the rentals for affordable housing and provide the Huntington school district with up to $1.5 million in mitigation costs to make up for an anticipated influx of new students. The item on the agenda drew hundreds of people.
Outside Town Hall protesters chanted that AvalonBay, a nationwide builder of high-end developments, was unfair to local builders by using contractors and workers from Connecticut and elsewhere. Inside Town Hall, the corridors were jammed, and voices were loud.
Opponents seemed to outnumber supporters, judging from the proliferation of their printed red-and-white signs proclaiming “Stop AvalonBay and Downsizing Huntington,” their white-washed Burger King crowns stamped with the phrase “Say no to AvalonBay,” and the many blue and red Conservative Society of America T-shirts.
The Town Board room itself was filled to capacity. The local fire marshall wouldn’t even allow AvalonBay’s attorney from the law firm Farrell Fritz to view the proceeding.
Noting the intense atmosphere, Supervisor Frank Petrone said, “Your passion speaks loud and clear.” He added, “This town could be better for all the energy this has produced.”
Councilwoman Glenda Jackson, a Democrat, noted that she’d been “appalled” at some of the “vicious comments” from opponents to the project, which she said were “over the top.”
She said that as a single parent who’d grown up in the town and had lived in Huntington Station, the project would go far in addressing the housing and economic needs of her community. But many of the opponents didn’t agree.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Petrone said before the vote was cast, “you’ve shown leadership; don’t show dividedness.”
Under the terms of the rezoning proposal, the law needed a super majority to pass.
When Democratic Councilman Mark Cuthbertson followed Republican Councilman Mark Mayoka in opposing the measure, the crowd knew the law was toast.
Democratic Councilwoman Susan Berland, who’s made no secret of her political ambitions (such as for the supervisor job, some say), had previously announced her opposition to the zoning’s high density allowance (18 units per acre).
Cuthbertson cited the school board’s rejection of the Avalon project (after voting in favor of it last year), and said that “without their good faith” he couldn’t go forward.
In the end, two Democrats and one Republican defeated the measure, and only Supervisor Petrone and Councilwoman Jackson, both Democrats, were in favor.
After the vote, Berland told the Press that she still held out hope that AvalonBay would come back to the town with a proposal for much lower density, such as 14.5 units per acre. The site now allows for 109 single-family homes.
AvalonBay had said that without the higher density zoning it wouldn’t develop in Huntington.
Supporters of the project were disappointed, to say the least, but they were not surprised because the town board had been backpedaling for months.
“Their job is to lead,” said Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “They reacted.”