Joye Brown: Huntington housing brouhaha

A resident cheers after Huntington Town board voted

A resident cheers after Huntington Town board voted against the Avalon Bay affordable housing development, Tuesday night. (Sept. 21, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

bio | email

Related media

$cleanText $entry.content.alttag

The last thing Huntington needs is another brouhaha over housing. That's what's shaping up in the wake of a school board decision to oppose renovations and construction on a high-density, Huntington Housing Authority senior citizen project.

So far, the board's sent a letter to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, saying it is backing some Huntington Station residents who oppose the plan.

And, in response, supporters have set an information session on the proposal for next week.

Two sides lining up against each other. Sound familiar? That's what happened in the last big high-density fight, over Avalon Bay.

The last thing Huntington, Huntington Station or the school board needs is another battle. What the school board needs to do is take a lead in unifying a community already torn apart by rhetoric, fear, and a perception that its children are not safe in their own schools.

What's the school board doing in the senior citizen housing business to begin with? "We are opposed to this project because it is too much for a community that already has more than its fair share of density," school board president Bill Dwyer said of the board's unanimous opposition.

But what about other issues roiling the district - education-related issues? Both the junior high and high school are on the state's needs-improvement list. Dwyer called the issues unrelated, saying that the board is capable of doing many things at one time - including freeing my son's high school of an appellation that stings.

Meanwhile, the community is teetering close to forgetting a history of pride in its racial and economic diversity that dates back to when Huntington was part of the Town of Oyster Bay.

"Huntington is more racially and economically diverse than most school districts and it has managed to maintain a relatively high level of performance at a more or less reasonable cost," said Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean of the Suburban Studies Institute at Hofstra University.

And here's the important part: "It is what every community on Long Island, according to demographic studies, will look like a generation from now," he said.

It is essential, then, that Huntington succeed in bridging rather than widening its divide; in beating back an inferiority complex; in recognizing, finally, that it has the rare and extraordinary opportunity to lead the way in a racially and economically diverse Long Island public school district that (mostly) works.

The school board, instead of plowing old, high-density ground, can try breaking new. Some suggestions:

End Huntington's isolation by talking to neighboring Elwood, which wisely has invited other neighboring districts to talk about some form of consolidation.

Remember: Nassau County may be grabbing ink for edging toward fiscal insolvency, but the county share of the property tax is nothing compared to the school burden - and Huntington already is talking about the possibility of teacher layoffs.

Embrace the district's economic and demographic reality. Visit the Rockville Centre school district, where Superintendent William Johnson years ago abolished tracking of low-performing black and Hispanic students. The district put everybody to work - and enjoys a 99 percent graduation rate and a national reputation for educational excellence.

"Sifting and sorting children leads to mediocrity," said Johnson, who promised to welcome Huntington, which, incidentally, is searching for a new superintendent.

And finally, board members should sit down with John Cameron, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, who this week expressed concern about the board's opposition to higher-density housing.

The council just got a federal grant to develop a "Fair-Share Housing Plan" - which would work to build support for higher-density housing in more than the usual handful of communities.

That's important because Long Island is aggressively losing the competition to Westchester and other suburbs for young residents and aging baby boomers, who will be needed to work side by side in the local workforce if the region is to grow.

At the rate Long Island is going, parents with children in any district will continue to find themselves waving children and grandchildren goodbye.