A rendering of Concern Housing’s rejected Liberty Gardens community in...

A rendering of Concern Housing’s rejected Liberty Gardens community in Tuckahoe. Credit: Concern Housing

The Southampton Town board's decision last week to reject an application for a development of 50 units of veterans' and workforce housing was a deeply disappointing blow for those in desperate need of appropriate, supportive and affordable places to live.

It also was a poor example of governance.

There was no prior notice the town board would vote on the Tuckahoe development known as Liberty Gardens; the board suddenly added it to the agenda during its meeting. After a brief discussion, the members rejected the necessary zoning change, 4-1. The applicant, developer Ralph Fasano of Concern Housing, a nonprofit previously known as Concern for Independent Living, didn't know a vote would happen and did not attend. Neither did those who would benefit from the housing, including veterans and local workers. Before the vote, no resolution or documentation was posted online.

That's not the way to conduct public business, much less decide on a critical affordable housing project.

Liberty Gardens, proposed for the Southampton Full Gospel Church property on County Road 39, has been in the works for more than six years. Fasano tweaked it, earmarking 25 units for veterans and 25 units for workforce housing. The previous town board approved the final environmental impact statement in December. Multiple Suffolk County offices, including the Water Authority, Department of Health, Planning Commission and Department of Public Works, signed off on the $38 million development.

But a required “findings” statement issued by the town, which usually reflects the environmental review, struck a more negative tone at odds with the review's more positive conclusions, apparently giving the board cover to do what its members wished. Town Supervisor Maria Moore told the editorial board she was particularly worried about traffic and the development's wastewater plan, and suggested alternative sites. But Fasano said shifting the location would have meant a loss of needed state funding. And both of Moore's central concerns had been addressed. DPW, which manages county roads, said Concern's traffic strategy was the best possible option; the Water Authority and Health Department signed off on the wastewater proposal. Moore argued that proposal wasn't binding but that's because the zoning hadn't been approved, a Catch-22 argument. Had the town appropriately approved the zoning only to see the wastewater plan somehow fall through later, the board could have refused to issue a building permit.

Instead, most of the board sided with those long opposed to Liberty Gardens. Those critics often focused on who might live there, worrying that some might have mental health needs and claiming there might be an increase in crime. Board member Cyndi McNamara employed the fear tactic that residents might include veterans with discharges other than honorable.

Concern Housing is considering a fair housing lawsuit, so Liberty Gardens may still have a future in Tuckahoe. But for Southampton, which had been making progress in addressing the East End's affordable housing crisis, this stain will be difficult to erase.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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