Melville Plan Leads to Clash at Town Board Meeting



Residents watching Huntington Town Board meetings are accustomed to seeing members remaining mostly silent during public hearings. But last week was different in at least one instance, even by the standards of Huntington’s development battles so often fraught with high emotions and disputed information.

Though no public hearing was scheduled on the Melville Town Center proposal, dozens of residents turned out to speak during the comment period, nearly all expressing strong support for the idea. All was calm until  a woman suggested some impropriety might be at work, leading Supervisor Ed Smyth and Councilman Sal Ferro to respond sharply. And, Ferro later said, the woman’s information was incorrect.

Cynthia Clark, a vociferous opponent of developments, including the plan that  would alter the town code to allow a mixed commercial-housing zone in Melville, sparked an ugly exchange after she quoted Ferro as saying in March that board members had been discussing the plan with the Melville Fire Department. The department has raised questions about the plan’s effects on the population and the department’s workload.

“Mr. Ferro neglected to mention that two weeks earlier he had hired his new legislative secretary, the daughter of a longtime Melville fire commissioner,” Clark said. “In order to move this proposal forward, you’d need the approval of fire authorities. Surely you realize this could be interpreted as a conflict of interest, which may give you pause to recuse yourself.”

The board remained silent for another moment until she added, “I’m not impugning the woman’s character,” which triggered Smyth to respond, “Yes you are.” She denied that but Smyth and Ferro responded again, with Ferro saying that she was impugning his, and Smyth saying she was being ridiculous, adding, “You should be ashamed of yourself”  more than once. After some cross-talk, she added, “I was simply describing an action that on the surface could be viewed as a bribe” though it wasn’t clear if she was questioning the actions of town hall or the fire department.

Ferro said that the facts are otherwise–the employee in question is the niece of the spouse of a fire commissioner, hired into an entry-level position, not a commissioner’s daughter. And Ferro said, she had already been scheduled to move to the controller’s office.

“She’s crossed the line,” Ferro said of Clark. “This is very innocuous. We’ll listen–that’s what publc hearings are for, not for yelling and screaming and threats. We’re wide open to listening and talking. You don’t stoop to dragging entry-level employees into it.”

Even by the standards of past development fights, and if social media is to be believed,  the Melville proposal seems heated, though other residents are supporting it. The aim of the proposal is to change town code to allow developers to turn space, some of which is occupied by empty offices, into a mix of commercial and residential units and create a downtown area along Maxess Road. Many residents of the area  have complained about empty parking lots turning into loud recreational spaces at night, and about the increase in warehouse and truck traffic in the community.

The board has scheduled three public hearings on the Melville proposal:

  • April 30 at 7 p.m. at West Hollow Middle School
  • May 7, at 2 p.m., at the Town Board meeting at Town Hall
  • June 12, 7 p.m. Town Board meeting


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