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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

In the end, Avalon Bay was just about the fight

Huntington residents Annette Messano and her daughter Megan,

Huntington residents Annette Messano and her daughter Megan, 11, protests the Avalon Bay affordable housing project, Tuesday night, at Huntington Town Hall. (Sept. 21, 2010) Credit: Newsdayo / John Paraskevas

There came a point where truth or fiction about the proposal to build Avalon Bay in Huntington Station didn't matter. All that mattered was the fight.

It was about a quest for victory. And the thrill of a battle waged through shouts, painted bedsheets and signs hung all over town, and postings on Facebook and other Internet sites.

Sometimes the exchanges were passionate and heartfelt; too often - especially on the Internet - they were just plain mean. Whatever happened to civil public discourse? To neighbors coming together to debate the pros and cons of any proposal?

That was largely lost in Huntington to what, ultimately, turned into a blood sport, especially at one public hearing where booing and catcalling almost shut things down.

Could the Avalon Bay development alone cure Huntington Station's ills? No. The community's challenges run deep and wide and they've been allowed to fester far too long.

Could Avalon Bay - in some form or fashion more acceptable to the community - make Huntington Station worse? No. Last night's vote does not change the fact that the town's stepchild of a community needs capital, businesses, jobs and the potential of attracting other residents who would be proud to call Huntington Station home.

It's easy to lament the loss of yet another development Long Island so sorely needs to bring financial investment and jobs to struggling communities. But the fight over Avalon Bay - which spread beyond the Station, to the town to the Long Island region - also must be cast in a different context.

The fight was about politics, with local critics of Democrat-run Huntington Town laying groundwork for next year's town board elections. The loss of two Democratic seats in November 2011 would shift the board's balance of power.

The fight was about a school board working to find surer footing - after a decision to shutter Jack Abrams School because of violence in Huntington Station angered enough district residents to defeat a proposal to use capital funds for classroom construction.

The school board in August 2009 signed an agreement to accept $1.5 million from Avalon Bay - to help alleviate any added costs that the district would incur if the project goes forward - all the while saying it had no position on the proposal. No position meant no public school district opposition, either - until last week when the board declared itself to be against a portion of the plan.

The fight over Avalon Bay was also about fear.

Fear - according to postings on a variety of Internet sites - of everything from poor people who receive Section 8 housing vouchers to the fiction that the same kind of transit-oriented/housing development could spring up around Greenlawn, Northport and Cold Spring Harbor railroad stations. And even to Dix Hills, which has no station at all.

A transit-oriented development would not work for the other stations, planners say, because there's not enough land available for development around them.

As late as Tuesday, developers were still trying to answer questions about traffic and density, about how many rental and owner-occupied units there were; and whether unsold units would - as critics contended - convert into rentals.

These are boilerplate issues, information that critics and supporters alike should have digested months ago. Instead, such issues helped fuel and escalate the fight.

What happens now?

Huntington Station needs an economic boost; young people need homes; Long Island needs young people. Huntington Town and Avalon Bay, along with supporters and critics of the proposal, need to get past fighting to a project that will work.

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