Op-Ed: It’s Time to Find a Solution to the Apartment Issue

For too long in the Town of Huntington, real estate developers and NIMBY’s (Not in My Backyard) have been battling.

Our local elected officials are scrambling to appease both extremes and refuse to stop taking developer money, leaving residents constantly questioning their motives for proposed legislation.

Real estate developers are concerned about maximizing profits and NIMBYs want to keep any new residents out. The prolonged battle has left behind recent college graduates, working families and seniors living on fixed incomes.

The latest proposed ordinance would have increased the allowable height of apartment buildings built outside the town’s five hamlets/villages but within 1,500 feet of them, from 38 feet to 45 feet, to permit three stories. The issue is that there is nothing in this proposed ordinance that would have guaranteed these rentals or housing developments would have been affordable. As a younger person who lives in a new development in Huntington Station, I am going through my savings to be able to afford to stay in the town I grew up in and love.

While the challenges seem daunting and there is strong passion on both sides, it seems there are a few steps the Town Board can take in order to create solutions that can help solve the housing crisis.

First, I believe we can increase the number of accessory apartments in a given neighborhood. Right now, the number is 10% and I believe a small increase would help homeowners mitigate the costs of owning a home in our town, while also creating more housing opportunities for people who are struggling to afford the high price of apartments. We also should have a designated expediter in Town Hall who can move the permit process along quickly.

Second, we must change zoning laws to allow property owners to propose housing projects for abandoned bowling alleys, strip malls and big-box stores. These developments would be appropriate near train stations or bus stops to create true and much needed transit-oriented development. The retail market is changing with many consumers purchasing online and this can be a way to increase foot traffic, especially on Larkfield Road in East Northport. Aside from big box stores, “middle housing” such as duplexes and triplexes would be a great addition to neighborhoods due to the fact they can be constructed on small lots and keep a similar design to the neighborhood.

Third, while it’s no secret that our township is lacking sewers, we must work with our partners in Suffolk County, New York State and Washington D.C. to upgrade our outdated septic tanks which not only limit housing opportunities, yet also lead to the pollution of our sound.

Finally, we need our elected officials to act on the housing crisis. The influx of luxury developments is unobtainable for the majority of the residents. We have college graduates moving to Westchester and Northern New Jersey, seniors moving to North Carolina and Arizona and working people of our town working in Huntington but moving to Patchogue and Farmingdale, because they are taking action when it comes to affordable housing. We cannot lose the next generation of Huntingtonians because the people we elect into office are cowering to the interests of developers and NIMBYs while leaving the rest of us stranded with no choice but to leave.

Gross is a former Democratic candidate for Town Board.

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