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Hundreds gather for talk on East Northport housing project

The faces have changed, but in the three decades since the Matinecock Court affordable housing development was proposed for East Northport, the protest has remained the same: Not here, not now, not ever.

About 300 residents gathered in the auditorium at Northport High School last night to hear town officials explain the history of the project. Residents wanted to know the impact the development would have on traffic, schools and quality of life.

When special assistant town attorney Jim Matthews attempted to answer residents' questions, he was often drowned out by those who shouted out questions and comments. That prompted one attendee to stand up and yell, "Shut up and give him some courtesy."

Many showed up to make a last-ditch effort to let town officials know that the project is not welcome.

"There was a lot of effort among people like yourselves in the '80s and '90s," said Matthews. "They fought as hard as they could because they felt, for sound planning reasons, the project wasn't right. We fought the fight and lost."

The project is closer to completion than ever.

In January, the Huntington Town Planning Board approved a conditional site plan for the 155-unit community on 15 acres at Elwood and Pulaski roads. The proposed development is for first-time homeowners and will be split between buyers and renters.

Renters can earn no more than 60 percent of the median family income for Nassau and Suffolk counties, currently $103,400 for a family of four, and buyers no more than 80 percent, said Susan Lagville, executive director of Housing Help Inc., the project's developer.

The next step is to get approval from Suffolk County for a sewage treatment plant on the site, something Lagville said is about a year away.

When first proposed in 1978, the project met with stiff opposition. At community meetings and public hearings, it was not unusual to hear verbal tirades and see speakers being escorted from the room.

Residents said they feared additional traffic, parking overflow and an overburdened school district and, consequently, the potential for higher taxes.

The town refused rezoning requests needed for the project and Housing Help sued the town, accusing it of discriminatory zoning practices.

The town fought the suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it lost in 1988. The court upheld a lower court's ruling that the zoning practices were discriminatory, according to Housing Help secretary Robert Ralph yesterday.

In 1997, Housing Help filed a lawsuit against the town charging that the town interfered with Housing Help's funding application to the state. That suit was later settled. Housing Help did not attend last night's meeting.

"This development scares the heck out of me," said Barbara DeGraff, a 38-year Northport resident and retired teacher. "If this goes through they'll need another elementary school and the taxes will go up; we would probably have to sell our house. Then where would we go?"

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