Hundreds of residents flooded the board room, hallways and standing space in Huntington Town Hall last Thursday in a tidal wave of opposition for the proposed Downtown Huntington project.
The Town of Huntington’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to adjourn the Jan. 24 public hearing on the proposal by developer John Kean to construct a mixed-use building that would bring 84 apartments to Huntington village to seek a larger venue.
“We understand people made the trip down here and would like to listen to this,” John Posillico, chairman of the town’s ZBA, said. “However, we want to be fair to everyone collectively. We can’t do that under the current circumstance.”
Roughly 300 residents waiting in hallways, unable to enter the town meeting room, could not hear the developer’s presentation after an “audio failure,” according to Posillico, but it was actually the crowd’s noise and conversation overpowering the building’s speaker system.
It is the first time in memory, according to town officials, a massive turnout forced a ZBA meeting to be adjourned.
“In a sense this hearing is a victim of our own success in getting people together around this issue — the overdevelopment of Huntington — of which this application is perhaps the most egregious example,” Bob Suter said.
Suter, a Huntington resident who helps organize Save Huntington Village, said while his group had called for a rally against the proposal, he hadn’t expected quite the turnout.
The parking lot of Town Hall was filled to capacity as drivers sought slots in the neighboring YMCA’s parking lot. Residents then stood on line for more than a half hour to pass through security and enter the hearing. Town employees pulled out folding chairs, as the meeting room was packed so dense the fire marshal took a head count, while late arrivals stood in the hallway. Before the meeting was adjourned, more than 85 individuals had signed up to speak on the project.
James Margolin, a Huntington-based attorney for Kean and property owner Alan Fromkin, recognizing the overwhelming turnout took the opportunity to explain the proposed development to the community publicly.
“The biggest issue is the misconceptions of what we are doing,” he said. “Most people thought the entire block was being knocked down. They thought we are putting a greater burden on parking when the whole idea here is that we are lessening the burden by hundreds of spaces.”
The proposed Downtown Huntington project seeks to construct a roughly 180,000-square-foot structure on a 1.36-acre site made up of five different properties located along Main Street, Stewart Avenue and Gerard Street. It would be a four-story building combining restaurant and retail with 84 apartment units and a 59,000-square-foot underground parking garage. Its application must go before the Zoning Board for several variances before construction proceeds including: a C-6 General Business District zoning only permits three stories, not four; apartments are slated for street level; and a parking variance.
Margolin said in his introduction the underground parking garage would provide 127 slots, more than the 40 spaces currently offered in total on the five properties as they stand. Given this, he said the development needs a variance as it comes up approximately 130 spaces short of the number required, which he argued is less than the shortage of 218 slots based on the building’s current use. However, the traffic expert and others with Margolin who expected to present on Downtown Huntington’s proposal in greater detail did not have the opportunity to speak before the adjournment.
“We really needed to come tell the community exactly what this project was and wasn’t,” Margolin said. “We understand we have a negative recommendation from the Planning Board, but we are making our case to you this evening.”
The town’s Planning Board voted 5-1 at its Jan. 23 hearing to recommend the ZBA “strongly” deny all variances sought by the developer. Posillico said the adjournment to seek a larger venue will also allow the Zoning Board more time to read and digest the Planning Board’s suggestions.
Those in attendance shouted questions asking why town officials had not scheduled the hearing on Downtown Huntington for a larger venue to begin with, especially after Posillico admitted to receiving more than 300 emails on the application in advance of the hearing. The chairman explained the town could face a legal challenge if not all were fully able to participate, which would force the hearing to be held a second time.
“I respect the board’s recognition that hundreds and hundreds, 300 or 400 people in the hallway, deserve the right to hear what is being stated, the description of the project, and what people have to say,” Dale Gifford, a member of Save Huntington Village, said. “There’s 600 or 700 people who came out on this terrible night. I think it’s pretty incredible and shows how passionately people are opposed to this.”
At the heart of the issue lies the controversial amendment to C-6 General Business District zoning code that allows apartments to be built above restaurant and retail space, up to a height of three stories.
Gifford, Huntington resident Barbara Suter and other members of Save Huntington petitioned Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to put a moratorium on development until proposed changes to the C-6 zoning are made public, debated at public hearing and set in place.
As of this publication’s press time, a new date and venue for the Downtown Huntington public hearing has not been set, according to ZBA special counsel John Bennett, but should be confirmed within two weeks. This may be further delayed if the developer chooses to scale back the size of the project. The ZBA has assured all those who signed up to speak Jan. 24 will be held in the same order originally.
Those residents interested in reviewing the developer’s proposed site plans can visit the Department of Planning and Environment, room 212 in Huntington Town Hall, located at 100 Main St. to review the file. A PDF of these documents will be posted on the town’s website once it is provided, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.