The following statement was released from the office of Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan A. Berland:
The original Avalon Bay proposal for the East 5th Street site called for the creation of a high-density “Transit-Oriented Zone” and the construction of 530 rental and equity units with a Transit-Oriented Zone designation. That proposal raised the specter of an array of adverse impacts – on the sewer district, traffic and the Huntington schools. In my view, the detriments of that proposal, even after being slightly scaled down to 490 units, outweighed the benefits, and so I voted against it, as did two of my colleagues on the Board.
I made every effort to persuade Avalon to reduce the density, to reduce the stresses on the school district and to make the assimilation of this development into the community as seamless as possible. To their credit, they did make some concessions. Following our rejection of their ill-conceived first and second proposals – and in response to my request that they reduce the intensity of use to that of their Melville properties, they did lower the proposed unit density from 18 and ½ units per acre to the 14 and ½ units allowed in the R-3M zoning – thus eliminating the problematic Transit-Oriented Zone. I have said from the start that the density of an Avalon in Huntington Station should be no greater than the density of the 2 Avalon communities in Melville.
The current proposal calls for the construction of 379 apartments and townhouses in place of the originally proposed 530 units and represents a reduction of 151 units or nearly 30% in the overall size of the project. The school district, which ultimately objected to the earlier proposals, voiced no objection until tonight.. Currently, much of the labor community reports that they have made great strides in discussions with the developer and now see the project as a net benefit. This progress is quite important to me, as I have stated numerous times that I support Project Labor Agreements for this development and, at a minimum, a preference for local labor. We need to keep these jobs local. If not in Huntington, at least on Long Island.
We – and by “we,” I mean everyone who was concerned about the earlier proposals and took a stand against them – did the right thing. The original proposals were too big, the density was too great, they would have brought about untested and potentially inappropriate changes to our zoning code, they could have imposed a difficult and costly burden on the school district and the potential for negative impact on the community was too substantial. Avalon insisted it was all or nothing, but we stood together, made our views known, and prevailed – the earlier proposals were defeated.
Is the current Avalon proposal for Huntington Station “perfect”? The answer, from my perspective, has to be “no.” Among the persisting flaws of the current plan is the lack of any one-bedroom units for sale – which would provide an option for singles and young couples just starting out who have the wherewithal to make a down payment, want to begin building some equity, and are willing to make a substantial investment in their community. One-bedroom equity units would also be attractive to seniors who no longer want, or are able to maintain, a larger home. However, Avalon Bay contends that there is no demand in the area for one-bedroom ownership units. I respectfully and strongly disagree.
It is also unclear and perplexing how the proposed Avalon Huntington Station, with nearly twice the percentage of three bedroom units than BOTH of the Avalon Melville properties combined, forecasts lower numbers of school age children than are currently residing in those Avalon Melville properties. According to conventional demographic analysis, three-bedroom apartments, depending on price and ownership, can produce five to ten times as many school age children as one or two bedroom units do. In light of the existing data from both of the Avalons at Melville and accepted principles of demography, the concerns that as configured, Avalon at Huntington Station will impose a tax-negative burden on the Huntington School District cannot be dismissed as whimsical or far-fetched.
In addition, there is a real danger that the three-bedroom market rate equity units could end up competing with the many three-bedroom houses that are now available for purchase or rental in the Huntington Station community, further eroding an already weak market.
Avalon contends that the large number of three-bedroom units is required to maintain “balance” (despite the fact that many of their developments around the country – including on Long Island – have no three-bedroom units at all); and that their experience and calculations indicate the project will be at worst tax neutral for the school district, and potentially tax positive. They are also adamant that there is no overlap among house versus apartment renters.
It has been said that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As originally proposed, Avalon Huntington Station was not in my view, and in the view of many others, the good. The current proposal is a much-scaled down development. R-3M zoning and Avalon Bay is a combination that we know can work in Huntington. We know it from our own experience because we have two adjacent Avalon developments in Melville in the Half Hollow Hills School District – together, totaling 494 units – these units have fit into that community seamlessly. I hope Avalon will fit into the Huntington Station community just as well. The suggestions I continue to offer would insure a similar seamless fit into the Huntington Station community and the Huntington School District.
So yes, there are uncertainties. But two things we do know for sure; the area is not going to revive without substantial private investment and Avalon Huntington Station as now proposed represents such an investment in the area. There will be a positive economic impact from the construction and operation of the development and also from the substantial amount of spending power its new residents will bring into the community. It will be an important step in the revitalization of Huntington Station.
Avalon will bring much needed investment and commercial activity into the area. And it will help keep our own children on Long Island and in the community. Yes, it will add more kids to the school district, but the school district appeared satisfied until tonight and we do not know their current analysis and we were not at their meeting.
I continue to hope that during the planning process Avalon will respond to my concerns and the concerns of many of our residents and adjust the make-up of the units. I firmly believe that one-bedroom equity units should be a part of this mix and that the 33 planned three-bedroom market rate units proposed for sale at $508,000 should either be eliminated or reduced to two and one bedroom units. Reduce the number of 3 bedroom units. Other issues, including sewage and traffic management will also have to be addressed satisfactorily before the project can be built.
Yet on balance, I believe that the development will be good for the community and for the Town. It will bring immediate benefits and serve as a catalyst for even greater improvements and growth. The proposal now before us, if not perfect, is better.
And so, for all of these reasons, and with the hope and expectation that Avalon will reach an accord with the labor community and continue to work on revising the make-up of the units, I am making a difficult decision and voting in favor of the proposed zone change.