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Amity Harbor neighbors oppose plan to build affordable house

An empty lot on Lee Place in Amity

An empty lot on Lee Place in Amity Harbor is shown Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Residents are protesting plans by an affordable housing group to build a home on the lot. Credit: Chuck Fadely

An affordable housing group wants to build a home on an Amity Harbor lot it bought from the state’s New York Rising program, but neighbors are resisting.

Some, writing in an online petition against the single-family, elevated house, said it would turn their waterfront neighborhood into a “dump” or “crime-ridden cesspool.” Other critics, in interviews and online, said that whoever moves in will get an undeserved jackpot: an unobstructed view of the Great South Bay.

By late last week, more than 80 people had signed the petition asking Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer to suspend building at the site, on Lee Place, until they get more information about the project.

The developer, Long Island Housing Partnership, does not plan to start building until next year, and Schaffer, in an interview, said he would be powerless to stop it anyway, though the house will be subject to routine permits and inspections.

The house is one of 30 LIHP intends to build across the Island, all on properties severely damaged by superstorm Sandy. The properties are being bought from NY Rising in exchange for payment of closing costs and back taxes.

Selected from a list of about 400 the state owns, all have taxes owed of less than $10,000 and are near downtowns, transportation, schools and shopping.

Several are slated for Babylon Town’s hard-hit waterfront in Amity Harbor, Lindenhurst and Amityville Village, said James Britz, LIHP executive vice president.

The state bought the Lee Place lot — less than a quarter of an acre — for $405,000 in 2015, according to records. The website Zillow estimates the median home price for the area at $288,000.

LIHP announced plans earlier this summer to sell the homes it will build on the lots it has acquired from NY Rising for about $200,000 to applicants who make no more than 80 percent of area median income — $106,200 for a family of four on Long Island. A mix of government and private funding will subsidize the cost.

The group plans to open applications online on its website by the end of summer and to select a family for Lee Place by early next year. The winning family must qualify for a mortgage and, while they can eventually sell the house, it can never be rented.

For Schaffer, the case illustrates a peril of governance in the social media age, when morsels of information spawn anxiety and rumors can spread faster than officials are able to respond.

Complicating matters, the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery sent an email to a neighborhood resident last spring saying the Lee Place property would be preserved as open space. That was a clerical error that was subsequently corrected, a spokeswoman for the office said this week.

“The thing you need to do is speak with neighbors, when you’re doing something like this,” Schaffer said. “Misinformation, or lack of information, always breeds misconceptions or misunderstandings, and people don’t appreciate that.”

Neighbors contacted this week said they had yet to hear any official word on the project.

“This was done quietly, without telling any of the surrounding neighbors that something foreign was coming into the neighborhood,” Jim Yarkin said.

Lauren Cirrito said she first learned about the project when a friend asked her to sign the online petition against it. “Nobody’s informed,” she said.

Some remained staunchly opposed, even after being told details of the project.

They questioned assertions by LIHP and NY Rising that the house will not lower neighborhood property values.

Particularly galling to some was the notion that, somehow, the bayfront home was an unearned prize, as good as or better than the homes they said they’d bought on their own.

Ownership of a place like that “should come from your own hard work, not someone else’s,” said Will Clark, who lives behind the Lee Place property.

“Why don’t they put an underground pool in the backyard, too?” asked Linda Jaworowsky. “We worked really hard to try to get a house on the water.”

She was already imagining what she characterized as the New York City types who would move in. “They can put them somewhere else,” she said.

Britz said LIHP will share designs and renderings of the home in meetings with the public in coming months.

“We would love it if people from Copiague” and surrounding communities apply to buy the home, he said.

Britz has come to expect opposition whenever an affordable housing program is announced, he said.

“But we’ve never had someone come back and say we wish you’d never built it,” he added.

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