AvalonBay Huntington Station -- the high-density development that polarized the community for four years -- is ready to open for residents.
"It's great that we are wrapping up this project," Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said of the 379-unit development near the railroad station. "This is a base for economic development for the station and represents good development that is ripe for all of Long Island."
Lottery applicants for 43 "affordable" one-, two- and three-bedroom rental apartments packed Town Hall on Tuesday night, to learn their ranking among the 489 who registered.
When Darren Knight's name was called, she let out a happy yelp.
"I don't know how it changes my life, it just makes my life better," said Knight, 62, a retired American Airlines flight attendant now living in a studio apartment above a garage. "Huntington needed affordable housing."
The AvalonBay opening is a watershed moment for revitalizing Huntington Station, the culmination of a project that divided the community and is representative of the type of housing development all of Long Island needs, officials and experts said.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said the good news is that the project was approved.
"The bad news is that it took four years and tore a community apart to meet a need that has to be met and in the end turned out just fine," he said.
The East Fifth Street complex includes a total of 303 rental apartments and 76 for-sale town houses. Forty-three of the rentals and 11 of the for-sale units are considered affordable. The remaining 260 apartments and 65 town houses will be offered at market rate.
The Long Island Housing Partnership, which is overseeing the affordable component, estimates that rents for those units will start at $932 a month for a one-bedroom, $1,148 a month for a two-bedroom and $1,646 for a three-bedroom unit.
Affordable housing lottery winners will have to meet income requirements and have an acceptable credit score before they can move in, town officials said.
Matt Whalen, an AvalonBay vice president, said market-rate units will be available Feb. 15.
"It's nice to feel all the positive energy here tonight," Whalen said after the lottery. "It makes the long road and effort worth it. I have zero doubt in my mind when people come and look at the units and look at the amenities, I think people will realize it wasn't the big bad wolf after all."
The original plan, first discussed in a March 2010 public hearing, required a zoning change to designate the 26.6-acre site about a half mile from the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station as the Huntington Station Transit Oriented District. The original proposal included 530 units split between rental and for-sale.
Opposition grew over concerns about density, traffic and how the complex would change the community.
After AvalonBay dramatically reduced the size, and eliminated the transit oriented district, the zoning change passed and was approved by the town board in June 2011.
The opposition didn't stop. The Greater Huntington Civic Group, which grew out of the controversy, sued the town, AvalonBay and the property owner, but the case was dismissed.
Steven Spucces, the group's president, said the organization is proud of its efforts and takes some of the credit for getting the project size reduced.
"The opposition to AvalonBay was absolutely worth it," he said.
David Calone, chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, said the project was the first significant housing development near transit in the region to get approved and it provided momentum for proposals such as The Hub in Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch Rising.
"All of those projects -- important transit-oriented districts that diversify our housing stock -- all of them would have been set back had the Huntington Station AvalonBay project not been worked out in a compromise among the community, the town and developers," Calone said.