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Judge delays decision on Garden City housing suit

A U.S. District Court judge reserved decision on a lawsuit alleging Garden City committed housing discrimination against minorities after closing arguments Wednesday.

The 8-year-old suit stems from the adoption of zoning by the village that the plaintiffs argued would have made affordable housing economically unfeasible. An attorney for the plaintiffs also argued in the two-week trial that village officials wanted to keep minorities out of the affluent community, where the median home value is about $800,000.

In 2005, the Long Island chapter of ACORN filed suit, alleging violations of the Fair Housing and Civil Rights acts. New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Inc., nonprofit affordable-housing advocacy groups, took over the suit when ACORN ceased operations in 2009.

Plaintiff attorney Frederick Brewington of Hempstead argued that Garden City created a single-family and town house zone instead of using a multifamily housing zone to prevent affordable housing from being built on the old 25-acre Social Services office site.

He said Garden City buckled to pressure from residents and "fearmongers" who did not want an influx of minorities.

"Zoning should not be used as a restriction for opportunity," Brewington said during closing remarks before Justice Arthur D. Spatt in Central Islip.

The case was sparked by a 2004 plan by former County Executive Thomas Suozzi to sell the site to a developer for about $30 million. The original zoning proposal called for multifamily housing that would have allowed 311 units on the site.

After public outcry, village officials changed the zoning to allow up to 90 single-family homes, up to 150 town houses or a combination of the two. The three options also included up to 36 multifamily units. The property never was sold. The building remains shuttered.

The village's attorney, James G. Ryan, said single-family and town house zoning would not prevent affordable housing on the site.

"The fact that they wanted single-family homes across the street from where they live does not make them racists," Ryan said of residents, who raised concerns during two 2004 public hearings about protecting the character of the neighborhood, unwanted additional traffic, more children in district schools and safety concerns.

A decision is expected in the fall, attorneys said.

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