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Save Huntington Village

Public hearing on proposed mixed-use 84 apartment building adjourned; date and venue not set

Save Huntington Village organizers Bob Suter and Dale Gifford wave signs protesting the Downtown Huntington project at the Jan. 24 hearing . Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

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.”

A supporter of Save Huntington Village holds a sign in protest of the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

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.”

Huntington attorney John Margolin presents the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

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.

At right, Huntington ZBA Chairman John Posillico. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

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.

Zoning Board hearing to be held Jan. 24, 6 p.m. at Town Hall with presentation; period for public comment

A rendering of the proposed Downtown Huntington building submitted to the Town of Huntington by Kean Development Company. Image from Huntington’s Planning Department

A developer’s proposal to reconfigure five properties close to the heart of Huntington village into a singular mixed-use building will go before the Town of Huntington’s Zoning Board tonight for a second time to seek approval.

Developer John Kean of Cold Spring Harbor-based Kean Development Company will present a design to construct a four-story, mixed-use building occupying 1.36 acres including the site of Classic Galleries and the historic Huntington firehouse. It proposes to build 84 apartment units above retail stores and restaurant space along with a below-ground parking garage.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about it,”  Jim Margolin, an attorney representing the developer said. “We think it’s a good project and good for the village. Hopefully, people will listen.”

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about it. We think it’s a good project and good for the village. Hopefully, people will listen.”

— Jim Margolin

The project, called Downtown Huntington, was first proposed to the Town of Huntington’s Planning Board in August 2015. Since then, the developer and the property owner Alan Fromkin have revised their preliminary plans four times making changes to the total number of apartments, stories, height of the building and architectural design, according to town officials. The most recent plans were submitted April 10, 2017.

“The bottom line is that this project will provide 127 parking spaces on site and there will be a significant reduction in the size of restaurant and retail use,” Margolin said.

The proposed structure would shrink the street-level retail space from nearly 40,000 down to 11,620 square feet and cut the restaurant floor space in roughly half from 6,400 to 3,853 square feet. Margolin also stressed the current parcels only provide 40 parking slots spread out among the five lots — 235 and 243 Main St., 5-7 Stewart Ave., 11 Stewart Ave. and 12 Gerard St.

Previously, Huntington’s Planning Board first reviewed the proposed development application and gave an advisory recommendation to changes. Among its requests was for the developer to conduct a traffic circulation study and profile renderings, which the town received in August 2018. With these documents in hand, the Planning Board revised its recommendations Wednesday night before the public hearing set for Thursday at 6 p.m.

“People are objecting to the sheer size of it and the extreme number of variances the developer is requesting.”

— Bob Suter

Huntington resident Bob Suter, who helps organize a residential coalition called Save Huntington Village, said he was one of many residents who remains staunchly opposed to the proposed Downtown Huntington development.

“People are objecting to the sheer size of it and the extreme number of variances the developer is requesting,” he said.

Many objectors have spoken out most loudly against variances requested to increase the maximum height of the building from three to four stories and relief for the required number of parking spaces. The parcels are currently zoned for C-6 General Business District, a zoning that Huntington residents have repeatedly called on the town board to review and change. Suter’s group arranged to make preprinted signed protest signs available to residents and business owners for pick-up Jan. 19.

“We handed out close to 200 signs on Saturday in a very short period of time,” he said. “People who were showing up are angry, they are really upset.”

Dozens have taken to social media to vent and have written emails to the town about preserving the former historic Huntington firehouse as a possible landmark in the village.

“While I cannot comment on a specific application before the ZBA, it is the priority of my administration to preserve the historic character and charm of our town while allowing business to flourish.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“While I cannot comment on a specific application before the ZBA, it is the priority of my administration to preserve the historic character and charm of our town while allowing business to flourish,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in statement. “In 2018, my first year in office, I asked the town’s Planning Department to review possible changes to C-6 zoning and provide recommendations to aid in the preservation of our town’s quaint aesthetic. The Planning Department is still working on those recommendations.”

Margolin said his clients have agreed to restore and preserve the original façade of the building, even though it “wasn’t designated historic by the town board.” Rather, its intended as a sign of goodwill.

Those wishing to voice their concerns, support or opposition regarding Downtown Huntington can participate in the public hearing scheduled for Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at Huntington Town Hall.

Residents unable to attend Thursday night’s meeting can submit written comments via email to [email protected]