Judge allows fliers in discrimination trial
The judge overseeing a racially charged housing trial Thursday allowed into evidence a pair of fliers that civil rights advocates say are integral to their case that Garden City blocked a multifamily development for reasons of race and class.
The trial stems from a 2005 lawsuit that accused the village of violating the Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act when it rezoned a former Social Services building in Garden City. The original zoning called for 311 multifamily units, but Garden City rezoned the land for a mix of single-family homes, town houses and far fewer multifamily units after a public outcry.
Attorneys for nonprofit groups New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Inc. submitted two fliers Thursday they said show evidence of socioeconomic bias by project opponents, which later swayed the village's board of trustees. One flier said, "Isn't it true that many families move to Garden City to assure their children of a quality education?" The other read, "Are we being urbanized?"
Attorneys for Garden City opposed admitting the fliers into evidence, because it was unclear who authored them. But Justice Arthur Spatt allowed them because village officials saw them and could have been influenced.
"Whether it's accurate, whether it's truthful, is really beside the point," Spatt said during trial. "It could have affected them in some way."
Attorneys for the nonprofit groups, including Chava Brandriss, said the fliers are a key part of their case.
"The decision-makers were responsive to sentiment in the community that was motivated by prejudice," Brandriss said.
Village attorneys said the fliers should have been tossed out.
"For all we know, it could not even be a Garden City resident" who authored the fliers, Ariel Ronneburger said.
The case dates to a 2004 plan by former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi to sell the 25-acre Social Services site to a developer for about $30 million. The property was never sold and the building remains closed.
Garden City's rezoning changed the maximum allowable housing from 311 units to up to 90 single-family homes, up to 150 town houses, or a combination of the two -- with all three options also including up to 36 multifamily units.
Moreover, plaintiffs say, the village zoned away the possibility of affordable housing -- likely to be occupied by minorities.
"They let us know they didn't want affordable housing," said Atlanta Cockrell of Hempstead, a member of New York Communities for Change, outside the trial. "We knew what they meant."
Village administrator Robert Schoelle and former village trustee Gerard Lundquist testified Thursday. From the stand, Schoelle answered "no" when asked if he acknowledged that economics was a factor in creating segregation in Garden City.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.