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Controversy builds over management of the sewage plant at The Greens at Half Hollow

The entrance of the Greens at Half Hollow

The entrance of the Greens at Half Hollow on Old South Path in Melville on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk legislators are set to step in to help settle a stalemate between the homeowners association of The Greens and the community's developer over the management of the sewage treatment plant at the luxury senior housing complex in Melville.

The legislature's public works committee voted 5 to 0 on Monday to put forth a resolution to be voted upon next Monday, authorizing the process of making the plant at the development the county's 26th sewer district.

Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) in whose district The Greens lies, said it's possible homeowners could run the district, despite objections from the developer of the community, The Greens at Half Hollow LLC.

"Although we are going through a process that could result in the creation of a new sewer district and the county taking over the administration of The Greens sewage treatment plant, we are still very much considering the possibility of the HOA [homeowners] taking it over," Stern said.

Since "there is no specific process outlined under county or state law" for a homeowner takeover, the county attorney's office "is working on developing a proposal for what the process would be."

In July, county officials said they would take over the plant and create a new sewer district, after the developer said they could no longer afford to run the system. Greens at Half Hollow officials cited the county's new, lower rates, which were set in 2012 after the homeowners association requested a review of what they were being charged.

The homeowners association wants the developer to transfer the plant -- and $425,000 in reserve funds -- to its members, who believe it would be less costly if privately held. The association's board voted 5-2 recently to support taking over the plant.

But Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for the developer, said homeowners association bylaws and the plan for the complex bar the group from acquiring or operating the sewage treatment plant.

"Under no circumstances will The Greens at Half Hollow ever agree to give the rights to the HOA," Zimmerman said. "The only way to achieve finality is to transfer the sewage treatment plant" to the county, which was proposed around 2000 when the project was being organized.

Richard Hamburger, the Melville-based attorney for the HOA, said the association "has the power under its governing documents to own and operate a plant, and there is nothing in the state nonprofit corporation law or any other law which says the HOA can't operate a plant that services the people in its own community."

Critics of the HOA proposal are concerned that a privately run plant would not work well, especially as the plant ages and major repairs are needed or sewer standards are upgraded that would require a major new investment for which homeowners would foot the bill.

The county has held two public hearings on the matter in recent weeks, including a heated debate on Nov. 18 in Hauppauge that lasted nearly three hours and brought out about 125 seniors from the community.

About the plant

HOUSEHOLD CONNECTIONS: About 1,300, the majority of which are from The Greens at Half Hollow.

RATES: HOA members say that sewer rates would rise under county operation from $270 a year to $479, with a 3 percent annual increase.

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