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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Huntington should move quickly on rental housing

Peter Florey, developer of a rental housing development

Peter Florey, developer of a rental housing development proposed for Melville, speaks to supporters of the project outside Town Hall in Huntington. (Dec. 3, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

For more than a decade, a legal fight over allegations of housing discrimination in Huntington has been fought almost in silence.

Negotiations. Court conferences. Executive sessions of the town board. Nearly all of them held outside the public eye.

That could end Tuesday night if town officials -- as they should -- introduce a resolution to clear the way for building rental housing on Ruland Road in Melville in exchange for ending a discrimination lawsuit that was originally filed in 2002 by Huntington fair housing advocates.

Should the board go for the settlement, the town would gain needed, mostly one-bedroom rental housing for both young people looking to strike out on their own, or empty nesters tired of empty rooms.

Should the board vote the resolution down, the lawsuit's next stop, early next year, will be a trial in federal court.

That's the last thing Huntington residents need. As it is, the town's already spent more than $400,000 on the case -- and that's just since 2009. The town did not provide the total cost, which would cover the cost from 2002.

And besides, why should residents have to rely on a federal judge or jury to settle the matter when that job should rest with Huntington's duly elected officials?

In August, an earlier resolution on a proposed settlement was pulled from the board's agenda, which -- conveniently -- kicked the matter down the road until after the election.

As of last week, only one board member, Eugene Cook, who lost, narrowly, his bid to unseat incumbent Frank Petrone, said he was a willing yea vote on a proposed settlement. ". . . It seems to me that it should have been settled," Cook said.

Board member Susan Berland, in an interview Monday, said she would like to see the matter settled too -- but not if it involved rental housing.

Instead, she would like to see owners occupy a development that, under terms of a proposed settlement disclosed last week, would include mostly one-bedroom units.

Other board members were said to be undecided.

But here's the deal: Huntington needs rentals. And smaller owner-occupied units too. That's clear -- and generally more acceptable to community residents across Long Island than it was a decade ago.

In Nassau, even Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, breaking with his party's decades-old support of single-family-only-housing is facilitating construction of such units. So why can't Huntington -- after more than a decade -- close a deal?

Last week, town officials said they were continuing negotiations with the NAACP -- which alleges that mostly one-bedroom units discriminate against minorities and families.

But the NAACP was holding firm on rentals rather than owner-occupied units -- so much so that Berland said Monday that she did not expect the board to consider any resolution on the matter.

But the board ought to.

It's long past time for Huntington to bring the divide out and into the open. And besides, the town had promised a federal magistrate a vote before the end of the year.

Thus far, not one elected official is suggesting that Huntington would prevail at trial. That's the making of a crisis -- which, in turn, should see some resolution.

Vote the proposed deal, which includes set asides for town residents, physically handicapped and wartime service veterans, up. Or, vote it down -- and work toward a mutually acceptable modified agreement.

Do it quickly. Because more than a decade is more than enough.

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