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The New Battle Over Affordable Housing on Long Island

While Avalon Bay is forced out of Huntington, Babylon tries to build

That result wouldn’t have surprised a housing advocate like Jim Morgo, founder of the Housing Partnership, whose group was slated to pick who was eligible for the apartments officially designated as “affordable.” (In other words, their rents would be less than the market rate, roughly $1,900 a month, and more in the $1,000 range.) According to Morgo, the ratio of children to condos on Long Island is “about one-fifth of a kid” per condo unit. Morgo tells the Press there are only three kids in the 80 units of Patchogue’s new Copper Beach Village townhouses. Compared to the sprawl of single-family homes, “people in condos have fewer cars, too,” he points out. (Opponents of the Avalon Bay Huntington Station proposal claimed that the 490 units would generate a thousand more cars.)

So the school board, which had been meeting with representatives of Avalon Bay since October, 2008, signed onto the project for Huntington Station. Or so it seemed until this September, when it released a statement that it had voted to come out against the proposed higher density zoning. William Dwyer, the president of the Huntington School Board, explains the vote to the Press: “It is not on Avalon Bay directly. The zoning description could be used for other developments beyond Avalon Bay.”

School’s Out

Now to some observers, what the school board did was hard to parse. “You can’t slice the baloney that thin, is what it comes down to,” Councilman Cuthbertson says. He was skeptical of the school board’s denial that it didn’t understand the implications of the TOD zoning change.


Another Huntington source with inside knowledge of the process snickers, “If their attorney didn’t read the resolutions that created Avalon Bay, then somebody should be sued for malpractice.”

Cuthbertson says that the school board’s retreat, which “surprised” him, persuaded him to switch his vote from yea to nay because “we don’t have a partner in good faith at the school district level.”

Supervisor Frank Petrone had counted on Cuthbertson’s support, but he insists to the Press he didn’t feel betrayed. Petrone says the councilman “has to be accountable to how he voted, and it’s not to me; it’s to the rest of Huntington and the communities who wanted this.”

The opposition, fueled by the “cupcake moms” in the Huntington Parents and Teachers Association, according to Harris, were definitely pleased with Cuthbertson’s reversal, but it comes at a high price, some say. Without Avalon Bay’s project, the school district will have to kiss that million-dollar enhancement goodbye. Apparently, it’s got its plate full with other problems, and was probably happy to set this one aside for now.

The school district was already reeling after a 16-year-old girl was shot in the leg nearby Jack Abrams Intermediate School in July, hastening the school board’s decision to close the school. Continuing fears of gang-related violence and the overcrowded classrooms that the decision produced was the perfect storm, Harris says.

Matt Harris points to a map of Huntington Station that shows the area to be affected by the proposed transit-oriented district zoning he opposed.

“We have a lot of problems here,” says Harris, a registered Democrat and a former committeeman (1985-2001). “Avalon Bay would not have solved any of those problems. All it would have done is dump a thousand people into our community!”

He could not accept the idea of higher density housing in their community—the highest ever proposed for his town. “I didn’t move to Huntington to live like it was Queens!” And he doesn’t buy into the need for luxury apartments, either.

“If my daughter gets a job where she can afford a $2,000 a month rent,” Harris says of his daughter, now a senior in the school district, “I’m certain she would probably want to live in a doorman building in Manhattan than rent an apartment in Huntington Station!”

He thinks Long Island’s young adults should do what he and his wife Ellen, a graphic designer, did in the ’70s in Oyster Bay: “Rent a house and share it with two other people.”

Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a planning advocacy group, has watched the opposition to Avalon Bay build. He’d gone to the public hearing in July and listened for hours as people expressed their concerns. And he was also at the Sept. 21 final vote.

He tells the Press he saw “an almost hysterical anger toward folks who don’t own a home.” He thought this attitude was very short-sighted. “There are lot of Long Islanders, more and more when you look at the Gen X’ers and the Millennials coming up, who want alternatives to single-family homes.”

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