Trudy Fitzsimmons remembers the "nasty and belligerent" comments over AvalonBay's proposed multifamily housing development in Huntington Station.
She attended many of the meetings for the project, near the Huntington Long Island Rail Road Station, where venom and hostilities were on display.
After seeing the incivility, Fitzsimmons, 60, of Kings Park, joined with others to start a partnership with Town of Huntington libraries and the nonprofit she works for, Leadership Huntington, hoping to create a calmer atmosphere for discussion.
To that end, the group, Community Conversations, is holding audience-driven forums in public libraries throughout Huntington at which people are encouraged to voice concerns and opinions, without fear of reprisal. The partnership also aims to educate residents about ongoing initiatives and give them the data and statistics to help them better understand their communities.
"The ground rules are you have to be civil, you are entitled to your opinion, entitled to ask your questions and no one can fault you," said Fitzsimmons, program director at Leadership Huntington, who lived there 40 years. "And if anyone gets out of line, they get removed."
AvalonBay Communities Inc.'s 379-unit project a half-mile from the rail station, was greenlighted last October after more than a year of protests, community meetings and revised plans.
The group held its first meeting this month at the South Huntington Library and has more events planned for the spring. About 50 attendees watched a movie about issues facing suburbia and asked questions and voiced concerns to a panel.
Steve Gorenstein, 69, of Melville, said he went hoping for an "informative discussion on how communities can be moved ahead in the future." "I think it is a great step if they can get various segments of the community to recognize that there has to be compromise," he said.
Melisa Chioma Rousseau, 40, moved to the Huntington Bay area about 3 1/2 years ago with her husband and two children. Rousseau, who is black, said after the meeting that she was one of a few minorities and young people there.
"I think the partnership will be great . . . to break up the monotony," said Rousseau, an English professor at Nassau Community College.
Leadership Huntington director Katheryn Laible said the group's next step is to equip people with facts.
In March, Laible said they plan to have representatives from Long Island Index, a nonprofit that gathers and publishes Long Island area data, help the audience understand the numbers and how they relate to Huntington. Other panelists, she said, will offer statistics on such topics as economic development and housing.
"The public education really seems to be the missing piece."