Weighing In on the Proposed Melville Proceedings

I’ve been paying close attention to the public forums held in recent weeks on the two Melville proposals currently being advanced by the Huntington Town Board.

Having been actively engaged as a former Huntington Town councilwoman on many days and nights discussing ideas for Melville with a thoughtful and concerned group of Melville civic and education leaders, my interest continues.

An all-important feature of the current Town Board’s vision, among other things,
includes meeting the critical need for affordable and rental housing. No doubt, affordable housing is a laudable and vital endeavor if Huntington and Long
Island have any hope of retaining their local youth and others struggling with housing unaffordability.

Kudos to the Huntington Town Board and to all those who are coming out to show their support for affordable rentals.

But I can’t help but call out that to watch these proceedings is to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz taking a wide-eyed look around and questioning where she was.

The need for affordable housing is certainly not new. For many years, both before I was on the board and then for the six years I served, I was always an ardent supporter of housing proposals that included affordable housing units.

But all too often, especially in my final two years on the Town Board, I was left to stand alone in that support.

During his time as a councilman, and then now as Town Supervisor, Ed Smyth was unapologetically resolute in his anti-development stance, overwhelmingly voting against one proposal after the next that had anything to do with housing, especially rental housing.

We were aptly reminded of the Town Supervisor’s prior distaste for affordable rental housing at the May 7 th Huntington Town Board meeting when the spectre of the long-suffering Matinecock Court affordable housing project was raised.

Supervisor Smyth made clear his opposition to Housing Help’s request to change the composition of 146 units from ownership to limited equity as was requested by Housing Help, the project’s sponsor. Smyth proudly repeated again on May 7, as he has in the past, that he voted against Housing Help’s request, as to him, “limited equity equates to nothing more than a fancy rental.”

At that same meeting, one councilman felt the need to make it public that he was not on the Town Board when the Matinecock measure was voted upon, feeling an obvious need to distance himself from it. I found his commentary disappointing given that this same councilman told me on more than one occasion that he was prepared to support the Matinecock Court measure had it come up in his time on the town board.

These are the same two members of the Huntington Town Board who are now leading the charge on the Melville Town Code amendments. Code amendments that will allow for 3,000 rental apartments in Melville, with a promise that a portion of them will be affordable.

Ironically, the final Town Board hearing on the proposed Melville code amendments will take place on June 11 th , almost one year to the date when proposed amendments to the Town’s Accessory Dwelling Unit code, led by me, were the subject of a public hearing.

That proposal included a provision to re-allow basement apartments as had been the case in Huntington for many years without incident, and to allow the retrofitting of an accessory structure on an owner-occupied property, such as a garage, into an ADU.

Stricter than ever safety measures for any new ADU created were baked into the proposal.

Above and beyond this proposal being but one very small step to address the need for affordable rental units, the ADU proposal was primarily aimed at helping cash-strapped “average Joe” homeowners remain in their homes.

The June 2023 ADU public hearing attracted what anyone would describe as an angry mob of residents, who, in most cases, were responding to yet another fear-mongering anonymous mailer. The purpose of the mailer was to elicit the worst possible thoughts about what “type” of tenant these ADU units would attract, and by all accounts, it worked.

The three Town Board members with whom I worked in good faith and in a bi-partisan fashion for many months to develop the ADU proposal, one of whom retired from the board as did I at year end 2023, did a complete about-face following the contentious commentary last June. With the loss of their courage to move forward, the measure died.

With the Melville proposal, it’s at least heartening to see some demonstration of profiles in courage, albeit late in coming and, inexplicably so.

Courage exemplified with public pronouncements by Town Supervisor Smyth, that “elections have consequences” and of his waxing philosophical on the job of elected officials (when he asks the crowd rhetorically, is it our job as officials to be “obedient” to our constituents or to use our “best judgment?”) telegraphing to all that it’s the latter.

It’s a head-scratcher.
How does Supervisor Smyth’s newfound understanding of leadership in governance jive with his long held and intractable anti-development “obedience,” not to mention, his  open distaste for rental housing, be them ADUs or limited equity units such as those now under construction at Matinecock Court, units he blithely describes as “fancy rentals?”

One can only conclude that development and affordable rental housing are okay so long as they’re in Melville.

The proposals as currently written are long on promise but short on language, laced with a “let’s roll the dice and see what happens” approach, particularly when it comes to the affordable housing component.

Supervisor Smyth is quick to emphasize and defend the Melville proposals as merely “code amendments” and not a zone change- as if this should be of great relief.

However, as a matter of Huntington Town law, affordable units are triggered by a change of zone in a residential district by the Town Board.

A final observation- while I was always the first to support smart and responsible land use proposals, it’s always interesting to see how such proposals bring out the support of those who stand to benefit financially from them. Fair enough; I certainly recognize that it is necessary for developers to realize a profit on a business venture, especially if said venture is a credit to the Town by meeting housing or other needs.

However, as I’ve sadly come to realize, as did the many hundreds of disappointed constituents who wrote to me after the death of the ADU proposal around this time last year, when a town proposal stands merely to help the “average Joe” homeowner such vigorous public support from the land use community is nowhere to be found.

Without the voices of this monied and influential lobby, the air in any public town board meeting room will be wholly consumed by the disobedience of the angry mob, virtually assuring the practice of “obedience” governance by the Huntington Town Board, and many other elective boards.

It’s easy to dig in on your proposal when you know you’ve got the wind at your back. But real leadership is demonstrated when the heat is on and the stakes are high for those depending on you to cast a vote that will mean the difference between them staying in their home or having to leave their hometown.

To be fair, Supervisor Smyth deserves credit for his newfound “best judgment” approach to governance over his former and very well-demonstrated “obedience” method.

I can only hope going forward, that the “average Joe” homeowner will fare better when it comes to my Town Board’s just application of “best judgment” governance in weighing critical policy measures.

Huntington homeowners are just as worthy, and no different than the Melville industrial property owners in their mutual struggles to pay their taxes and stay afloat.

The only difference is the “average Joes” are lacking the wind, and money, at their backs.

An Open Letter to the Residents of Melville

Letter: Melville Overlay District Plan Is Ill-Conceived

Open Letter to Town Board on Melville Plans

Letter: Opposition to Melville Proposal Relies on Backward Thinking

2nd Update: Residents Crowd Town Hall Hearing on ADUs

Town Board Gives Go-Ahead to Matinecock Court Housing

Crowd Fills Auditorium for Look at Melville Plan

 

Melville Plan Leads to Clash at Town Board Meeting

Residents Speak Out on Melville Proposals

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