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Councilwoman Brooke Lupinacci's Comments Opposing the Melville Urban Re-Zone at the March 27th Emergency Huntington Town Board Meeting



(Transcribed from the Meeting Video)

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Let me start out by saying that I support giving the residents of Melville and the surrounding communities a vibrant Main Street for downtown. A real “Town Center.”

 

Some aspects I am in support of are:

 

A Walkable “Small Town”, charming Main Street that brings in unique, diverse restaurants, an ice rink or a stage for live music, open space, indoor sports facilities, and other activities that creates experiences for families and all residents to enjoy.

 

A housing component, with a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, or condos, around the Main Street or Town Center.

 

Sitting down with companies, whether healthcare or tech, to take over existing office space but to integrate it with a proposed master plan that is on par with other redeveloped lots.

 

The key word is “PLAN”

 

Unfortunately, there is no plan with the previous Town Board resolution from last week, and no Plan with these proposed amendments tonight.

 

I am a member of this Town Board - and I have not seen any actual Plan.

 

We can’t put the cart before the horse. As the Town Board, we need to build trust with the community and develop a clear and transparent plan.

 

The proposed amended resolutions still do not include survey plans, architects' drawings, or renderings. 

 

Let it be stated for the record that without the inclusion of any plans, any legal language that seeks to limit housing will not be binding. Any owner of a property within this overlay, once rezoned, will have the right to build. Any attempt by the Town to limit or recapture these rights after they have been granted could constitute a “taking,” and expose the Town to unimaginable amounts of money in legal liability.

 

If every parcel is rezoned for apartments, there is no walking that back. The Town Board will relinquish their right to control housing.

 

If approved, we run the risk of opening a Pandora's Box. Housing applications will come in. While the Resolutions proposed purport to allow the Town Board an ability to deny those applications, I believe the manner in which this is written will allow property owners and developers a mechanism to go to the courts to allow them to build whatever they want. Taking this out of our hands and that of the public.  Neither the Town Board nor the public will have a say in what eventually gets built.

 

The legal mess will just have started. I wonder how is the Town going to afford to eminent domain properties and create a downtown after the change in zoning has resulted in an exponential increase in the value of the properties needed to create the town center ?

There is nothing in the Resolutions that ensures that the town center - which was the initial promise - actually happens here. 

 

Quite the opposite.  If we pass the amended Resolutions, we run the risk of failing to realize the goal of having this walkable downtown.

 

Under the proposed amendments there is an arbitrary cap of the 3,000 apartment units. I believe that is non binding  and legally unenforceable.

 

How will we defend against a legal action by a property owner against being arbitrary and capricious if we deny them ?

But lets put aside the legal questions and assume hypothetically that it will pass legal muster. A housing plan of 3,000 units and hundreds of acres would be the largest apartment housing proposal in Long Island history.

 

Garvies Point in Glen Cove for example, was a housing development that took decades of integral planning, community discussion, and work to accomplish. It was a controversial proposal for the number of units proposed - and at that time it was only 1,200 units.

 

Glen Cove’s Mayor and the City Council, worked with the developer, much like we will, and the community on numerous plans and revisions with community input. They went as far to utilize a whole building to house an information center.

 

3,000 apartment units would net around 6,000 new residents to Melville.

 

How is the Half Hollow School District going to service hundreds of new students ? Especially under the enormous stress from the Governor’s budget cuts ?

 

How is the Fire Department that works on a volunteer basis going to respond to new calls.

 

Since there is no train station or public transportation in Melville, how is the Town going to absorb an additional 6,000 cars?

 

With 6,000 new residents, and an additional transient population, how is law enforcement  going to keep up if there is an impact on crime ?  

 

Where are the studies? Where is the research? Where are the letters of support?  Where is the Plan?

 

Have all viable alternate options been explored ?

 

Instead of looking to replace office buildings with apartment buildings, we should be looking to attract companies to Melville. Especially because New York City is losing businesses to the New York suburbs, left and right.

 

Additionally, this resolution does not contain an environmental impact study that is required by the state's SEQRA environmental compliance and evaluation process. SEQRA comes first and then requires a review of the entire project, not a segmented review on a piecemeal basis - after the rezoning - seems to me backwards.

 

This would be the largest housing project on Long Island in the last 60 years. This change of zoning - that will clearly impact over 25 acres - clearly is a Type 1 action.

 

While the proposed overlay zone is on developed land, let us be cognizant of the fact that any possible housing will be nearby existing and previous industrial sites, that have housed industries that have utilized contaminants.

 

And we have seen across Long Island, these contaminants can be devastating to our communities health, and well-being. If we choose to ignore the proper environmental process, we allow the health and safety of our families to be put at risk.

 

When I ran for Town Board, proudly, alongside my colleague Councilwoman Theresa Mari, we heard from the countless residents who were fed-up with over development.

 

I promised to you on the campaign trail that I would not vote to put anything in your backyard that I wouldn’t want in mine.

 

I cannot vote to proceed with a resolution, amended or not, that does not contain a plan, does not contain research, documentation, schematics, or visuals, that does not abide by the environmental process, that endorses the building of 3,000 apartments, and that does not hold the legal protections to even cap that extraordinary number.

 

My colleagues held listening sessions over the past year. I attended many of those as a private citizen before being elected.

 

They say that the introduction of this resolution is the next step and that there could be future amendments after the public hearings before a final zone change is put forth.

 

But that’s backwards. A zone change is not a plan. To be successful you must do the proper studies, put together a comprehensive, detailed, plan that has blueprints, get feedback, make changes, and follow the legal mandated  process that leads, eventually, to a zone change once a plan is established.

 

This isn’t the first time a redevelopment has been proposed on Long Island, 

 

I maintain, like my colleagues do, that we need to look to the future.

 

With proper planning and a real partnership with stakeholders, I’m excited about the endless possibilities to make Melville thrive and have it be a place that every Town of Huntington resident can enjoy.

 

I say let us be visionaries – but let’s get it right.

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Brooke Lupinacci is Councilwoman for the Town of Huntington.  She previously served as Assistant Town Attorney handling municipal land use issues; and a Suffolk Assistant District Attorney prosecuting complex white collar criminal cases. 

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