Following comments by dozens of Huntington Station residents during the public comment portion of the Huntington Town Board meeting Tuesday, April 13, railing against the lack of safety in their neighborhood, Supervisor Frank Petrone offered himself up for a meeting with the parents of Jack Abrams Intermediate School.
The speakers, mostly parents of Abrams' future or current students, have been rallying and circulating petitions to demand their children be taken out of harm's way following two recent shootings near the school.
Some say that can be accomplished by a building-for-building swap with Town Hall at 100 Main Street. Others want more done in Huntington Station to make all the residents safe.
The day-laborer site on Depot Road, as well as illegal accessory and Section 8 apartments were listed as contributing to the proliferation of crime and gang activity.
"My daughter can't drive in the area around the day-laborer site without being harassed," Huntington Station resident Jim McGoldrich told the Board.
Coincidentally, a public hearing was on the board's meeting agenda regarding legislation that, if approved, many speakers say would create more of a problem.
That is a change to the zoning code that would allow residents aged 55 years and older who are experiencing an economic hardship to have a legal accessory apartment in a home with just 50 feet of street frontage, rather than the 75 feet required now.
School Board Trustee Rich McGrath said that the idea "sounds nice" but, he said, would basically place more of a burden on two parts of the Town of Huntington: East Northport and Huntington Station.
"This is effectively saying, it's now easier to get an apartment in those two sections of town because there is no 50-foot zoning frontage in Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington Bay, Northport, Half Hollow Hills or any of those places," he said.
He noted that former Town Board members Marlene Budd, now a Suffolk County Family Court judge, and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-Huntington, worked diligently in 1997 to get the 75-foot frontage requirement approved as part of the zoning code.
"They worked hard to pass that and now you want to repeal it," he said. "Israel and Budd chose 75 feet because the impact of apartments on Huntington Station was so big they said, 'we have to do something.'"
Councilwoman Susan Berland and Glenda Jackson said the idea was to make it easier for seniors facing economic hardship to be able to stay in their homes by earning rent.
"My question is right now people are struggling," Jackson said. "We are in a real bad economic time. Do you not feel people should have an opportunity to rent a single accessory apartment? We want people to avoid the struggle. I have all due respect to the code that was changed previously, but right now we are in much different times."
McGrath said that Huntington Station has "done more than our fair share."
And, he said, the town is poised to approve a special zone change for Avalon Bay Huntington, a proposed development of 530 units of mixed residential housing that will include both rental and home ownership.
"When it is approved, and we know it's going to be approved, that will add an even heavier burden on Huntington Station," he said.
The proposed site is located on East 5th Street, bordered on the north by the Long Island Railroad tracks, on the west by Manor Field and the Armory, and on the east near Park Avenue.
The proposed site is already zoned for 109 four- and five-bedroom single and separate homes. Avalon Bay is requesting a zone change from residential to Huntington Station Transit Oriented District that would allow the larger yield.
Town Public Information Officer A.J. Carter said Wednesday morning that an Avalon Bay vote was never intended to be on the April 13 agenda and he can't say yet when it will be ready to be voted on.
"There were questions that came up during the public hearings that Avalon Bay has to respond to, that legally they are required to address," Carter said. "For example, traffic mitigation measures. And they have to respond to each of the points that were raised. This is just standard procedure."
He said that he does not know when the zoning code change allowing accessory apartments would be voted on either.
"We'll assess the comments and see where we go next," he said.
Residents last night said that they felt Huntington Station was bearing the burden of crime for the entire town.
"Stop dumping on Huntington Station," said Matt Harris.
As for swapping the Town Hall building at 100 Main Street with the Jack Abrams Intermediate School, Supervisor Frank Petrone said last night that he is "all for it" if it would help ensure the safety of students and further the revitalization of Huntington Station.
"We don't mean to keep coming here to pound you, but there is no other way to get you to listen," said Vera Ellis.
The supervisor told the crowd, "We've heard you. I'll start Friday."
Someone shouted out, "Start now!"
Petrone asked for fairness and said he would come to Abrams to meet with the parents Wednesday, April 15.
He asked Board President Bill Dwyer—who was in the crowd but did not speak—if that would work.
Dwyer told him to work it out with Superintendent John Finello and Principal Mary Stokkers.
"If you want to make it an effective meeting, coordinate with them," Dwyer said.
The crowd shouted disapproval and the supervisor said that he would be at the school to meet with residents if he had to stand outside.
"But I am going to ask you for solutions," Petrone said. "I am not going to say I have all the answers but I want a good dialogue. And I don't want to walk away feeling like we're going to beat each other up."
Carter said Wednesday morning that he agreed with Dwyer regarding coordinating a time and place with school district administrators.
Two resolutions were approved at Tuesday's meeting that directly relate to mitigating crime in the area around Abrams.
One was the process to begin acquiring privately owned properties in a wooded area at New York and Lowndes Avenue so they can be cleared. In the March 11 shooting near the school, the gunman allegedly used the woods to hide while aiming at the victims standing outside the convenience store at Academy Place and New York Avenue. Another was a resolution to approve the clearing work.
The work will be done using monies from the Environmental Open Space and Park Improvment (EOSPA) fund. The town authorized spending of up to $125,000 to survey, clean, clear, grub and grade the property Tuesday.
The Town Board also approved a resolution at its meeting authorizing a contract with the H2M Group to conduct a feasibility study with respect to the possible relocation of Town Hall to the site of Abrams.