A federal appeals court has ruled that a lawsuit filed against the Town of Islip related to a proposed rental apartment complex that has languished for years can move forward after it was dismissed by a federal judge in 2019.
The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by developer Village Green at Sayville, which planned to build a 58-unit apartment complex in the hamlet, including affordable and senior housing. The suit alleged discriminatory treatment of minorities through land-use restrictions, after the town did not grant a zoning change to allow rentals.
"[Town officials'] conduct in connection with the project has prevented minorities from obtaining housing in the overwhelmingly white hamlet of Sayville, thereby perpetuating the pattern of segregation in the Town," the lawsuit said.
The appeals court in its Aug. 5 decision did not assess allegations of racial discrimination.
Village Green filed its application to the town in 2014. At a public hearing on the proposal in November 2016, Supervisor Angie Carpenter made a motion to approve the application, but no other board member seconded the motion, and no formal vote was held. The town attorney privately told Village Green that the failed motion was being treated as a project denial, the lawsuit said.
Village Green attorney Mark Cuthbertson said Thursday in a statement to Newsday: "My client maintains that the Town of Islip's actions evidenced a pattern of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and familial status that perpetuates segregation and keeps minorities from living in the overwhelmingly white hamlet of Sayville." Cuthbertson is the chair of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee.
The suit names Carpenter and town other board members, including John Cochrane and Mary Kate Mullen, who are still on the board.
The suit names Carpenter and other town board members, including John Cochrane and Mary Kate Mullen. The suit also names officials who are no longer on the board. A town spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit stated the developers believed there was a high possibility that minority residents would live in the complex and the town board caved to the desires of outspoken residents at the meeting. The suit said low- to moderate-income households are disproportionately Black and Hispanic in Islip Town and are more likely to benefit from rentals, which are more affordable than homeownership.
The suit was tossed in September 2019 on technical grounds by federal Senior District Judge Denis R. Hurley in the Eastern District of New York because town officials never held an official vote on the project. Hurley's decision was vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
At the November 2016 town board hearing on the housing proposal, many Sayville residents rallied against the project. The lawsuit cited a man who said the complex would strip Sayville of being "the friendliest town in America."
The transcript of the town board hearing obtained by Newsday shows the same resident said he did not know "what type of element is going to be moving into those apartments and what they're going to leave behind."
The site of the proposed project, a 7.2-acre vacant property on Sunrise Highway and Lincoln Avenue near the Sayville Motor Lodge motel, was originally zoned for business. The town rezoned the property in 2006 to allow residences, but it required Village Green to accept zoning restrictions — including the prohibition of rentals, despite the residential zoning allowing them.
The developer still wants to build the project, Cuthbertson said.