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February trial seen for Huntington housing suit

Community members in favor of a development offering

Community members in favor of a development offering affordable rental options attend a public meeting at Huntington's Town Hall. (Dec. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A February trial will be scheduled for a housing discrimination lawsuit against the Town of Huntington, after its town board this week failed to settle a decadelong dispute.

A lawsuit filed in 2011 by the NAACP's Huntington chapter and the Fair Housing in Huntington Committee alleges a proposed affordable housing development in Melville discriminates against minorities and families because it calls for the sale of one-bedroom units.

The town board decided Tuesday not to accept a proposed settlement and unanimously voted to continue negotiations. Thursday, both sides participated in a conference call with a federal judge, during which it was decided that a trial date would be set for February.

Northport attorney Jim Clark, who is representing the town, said Thursday that there have been conversations with the NAACP's attorney about a countersettlement and he anticipates further talks about this.

Clark said the town "fully expected that the judge was going to set a trial date" after Tuesday's decision.

"The town still certainly wants to work toward settling the case," he said.

Manhattan attorney Christopher Campbell, who is representing the NAACP, said officials are "open to discussions with the town."

But that if there is a counterproposal from the town, they would like for it to first be voted on by the town board and then brought to the plaintiffs to sign off on it.

"We had an agreement in June that was supposed to be voted on by the town board that was delayed for six months," Campbell said. "I feel that we have learned our lesson from that experience."

In August, the town board was slated to vote on a proposed settlement, but it was pulled and never acted upon. The proposed settlement recently publicly discussed would have included 117 rental units: 77 one-bedroom, 34 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom.

The dispute now -- which began in 2002 -- centers on whether affordable multi-bedroom rental apartments or one-bedroom owned units should be built on a vacant 8.1-acre site on Ruland Road, owned by the developer of the luxury senior complex Greens at Half Hollow.

The Ruland Road units were intended to offset a lack of non-age-restricted, affordable housing acknowledged when the luxury development on Altessa Boulevard in Melville was approved in 2000.

The NAACP has been working with Levittown developer Peter Florey to build the multibedroom rental development. Florey of D&F Development Group is in contract to buy the Ruland Road property, but that option runs out at the end of this month.

Florey said Thursday he now feels that a trial is the "best solution" to the lawsuit. He said that unless there is a settlement by the end of December, he doesn't think he will be able to develop the property.

The NAACP and Fair Housing first sued the town in 2002, challenging the exclusion of minorities and families with children from the Greens at Half Hollow. In 2004, the groups amended the complaint to allege the same for the Ruland Road property -- which received zoning approval for one-bedroom units.

In March 2010, the planning board approved a site-plan application for a one-bedroom development, The Sanctuary at Ruland Road. That July, a federal judge dismissed part of the 2004 NAACP/Fair Housing suit, clearing the path for 117 one-bedroom units. The NAACP and Fair Housing sued again in May 2011. Fair Housing is no longer part of the suit.


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