Huntington Station Revitalization – 40 Years and Counting….
For more than 40 years elected officials have been promising the revitalization of Huntington Station. Many millions of dollars in grants and other funds have been obtained. Countless Committees have been formed and one promise after another has been broken. The pattern has left many local residents disenfranchised and has caused a lack of trust between local residents and those in charge.
The town recently signed a contract with Renaissance Downtowns to help come up with the latest plan. There are some that are very hopeful that this may finally be the answer while others are skeptical.
Renaissance Downtowns has been working diligently to gain the trust of the community. Ryan Porter of Renaissance Downtowns said, “unlike the typical development of a one off parcel, revitalizing a downtown must be done in a comprehensive manner. One off developments are usually conceived and then presented to the community at the 11th hour but comprehensive revitalizations require ongoing dialogue throughout the process. With that in mind it is essential to have broad based community support for our efforts. Downtown revitalization is not just a project, it’s an economic development tool…we want community involvement in visioning it, building it and utilizing it.”
Some of the efforts of Renaissance include a relatively new concept called Crowdsourced Placemaking. As described on their website Crowdsourced Placemaking is the “act of taking a project or development traditionally performed by a developer or government entity and outsourcing it to a larger, committed community with shared values, in the form of an open call – resulting in a transformation of these places into places of the soul that uplift us and connect us to one another”.
Renaissance Downtowns has set up the website to encourage community involvement. Residents are encouraged to post their ideas for Huntington Station revitalization. To add excitement Renaissance is offering grants for the most voted on ideas. They will actually complete a feasibility study for ideas that get the most votes on their website. In addition, they conduct monthly meetings at local establishments to bring awareness to their efforts and at the same time support a local venue. These general community meetings provide an opportunity for individuals to walk in and talk. This latest developer seems to be trying to be accessible to residents who have a stake and interest in the future of Huntington Station. More details about community outreach efforts by the company can be found at their website sourcethestation.com.
Huntington Station resident Matt Harris who has been following the Huntington Station revitalization process for several decades feels somewhat hopeful about Renaissance. Harris stated, “after countless “studies” by this and prior administrations, with virtually NO commercial property replacing what once stood along New York Avenue, we now have a master developer in Renaissance Downtowns that will listen to the people who live here, and NOT the politicians, through “crowd sourcing”. He continued, “I expect there will be proposals of “mixed use” development, that is office space, hotel, commercial storefronts, and yes, some residential apartments over stores in the mix”.
Harris is part of a group of individuals who recently formed a coalition. According to Harris, Eric Alexander from Vision Long Island organized the group after the Avalon Bay debacle. Included in the group are Huntington Station residents Matt Harris, Dennis Garetano, Elissa Ward and Al White who is representing as both a local resident and member of the Porter Trejo Action Network. Also part of this group is Bazeel Walters from Porter Trejo, Richard Koubek from Huntington Station Action Coalition, Reba Siniscalchi from Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Eric Alexander from Vision Long Island. This group of individuals is diverse in terms of ethnicity, background and view points.
The most recent focus of this group has been to support the efforts of this latest Master Developer in the hopes that something positive will finally come out of it for Huntington Station. The group sent a letter to Supervisor Petrone expressing their support for Renaissance Downtowns and they requested a meeting with the Supervisor. Petrone offered to meet with each member individually, but refused to meet with the entire group together.
According to Matt Harris, the group was taken aback when they first learned that yet another master developer was hired by Petrone and the town board. After meeting with individuals from Renaissance they felt that this just might work. The group continues to meet regularly.
The failed plans for Huntington Station date back more than 40 years. “The demise of “downtown Huntington Station” was 10 years in the making, culminated with the bulldozing of most of the businesses north of the railroad tracks in 1968, only to be replaced in the last 45 years with 2 multi-level parking garages, 395 low to moderate housing units, 2 ugly strip malls and a lot of empty state owned parking lots that pay no taxes. This is not what the residents were promised by Quentin Sammis and H.U.D. when it was torn down. And it also has not solved any of the crime issues today that plagued Huntington Station then either,” explained Harris.
Rich McGrath, is a member of the Huntington School District BOE, longtime community activist and has been following the Huntington Station revitalization process or lack there of for decades. When asked why so many residents are disenfranchised, McGrath said, “Since the first “urban renewal” in the 1960’s, the Town of Huntington has been telling us they are supposedly working to “revitalize” Huntington Station, so why can’t they? The easy answer is because every “revitalization” plan becomes yet another push for more high density, “affordable”, housing. Housing projects that the Town would fight tooth and nail if in Northport or CSH, are a great idea, so long as they are in the Station.”
McGrath continued, “In 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Town’s actions building all high density, low income housing in the minority section of Huntington Station was illegal. Yet, years later, why does the Town’s latest Plan, prepared by the firm of Gannett Fleming, propose 1600 more apartments?”
Steven Sprucces of the Greater Huntington Civic group explains “after years of being lied to the trust between the residents and town officials and appointees is almost non-existent”.
The Greater Huntington Civic Group (GHCG) was formed shortly after the Avalon Bay downzoning proposal was forced on the people of Huntington Station. Mr. Sprucces describes the mission of the group as restoring checks and balances to local government. Sprucces explains “that he wants nothing more than to see revitalization happen for Huntington Station after years of broken promises, delay tactics, and wasted money.” His skepticism with Renaissance Downtowns is that to date they have not put forth anything specific. He is concerned that whatever they put forth will involve high density, which he feels will adversely impact the quality of life for local residents. Sprucces continues, “the clock is ticking and we are all very interested to see what they will put forward.”
Renaissance Downtowns’ biggest obstacle in gaining trust from the community is going to be convincing everyone that their master development plan is different from the others that came before.
Here’s what came before:
In September 1959 the Town began the Urban Renewal Project in Huntington Station under the Flynn administration and administered by Quentin Sammis, chairman, by condemning all businesses and residences along New York Avenue and Broadway through eminent domain. The project was called General Neighborhood Renewal Plan, better known as (LIFT) “Local Improvement For Tomorrow.” Buildings were taken over with public money, knocked down and never replaced.
In 1962, Bartholemew Associates were hired by the Town as consultants. They began to publish a series of reports in connection with the Town’s First Comprehensive Plan. The report on Population Distribution and Density called for the rehabilitation of Huntington Village and Huntington Station and declared that 3,000 units of multiple-residence housing should be constructed by 1980. The plan favored these areas because of the availability of a public sewage system.
In 1967 The Comprehensive Plan was adopted. Town sells LIFT property to Melville Industrial Associates who proposed to construct luxury apartments along east side of NY Ave and Broadway. Before building anything, Melville Industrial Associates filed for bankruptcy. The project never got built. Land was taken over by Suffolk County for failure to pay taxes and eventually reverted back to the Town.
In 1974 Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act wherein the town can receive block grants for infrastructure, housing development, rehabilitation and rental assistance.
In connection with the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). The Town hired a consulting firm, Gordian Associates, to Update the Comprehensive Plan. An update to The Comprehensive Plan prepared by Gordian was never made public.
In 1975 THE MOORE PLAN was presented. It is another HS development plan that never takes place.
In 1989, the next Huntington Station Revitalization Plan was prepared by the consultant firm Conklin Rossant.
In 1993 Frank Petrone takes office. From this point on there is one Master Developer after another hired to create plans for Huntington Station. There are also countless committees, grants, legislation, initiatives, press conferences and photo ops. These efforts amount to little more than words on paper. There is not much in terms of actual brick and mortar unless you count the brick walkways that line streets throughout Huntington Station, that more or less lead to nowhere.
In 1993, The updated Comprehensive Plan is adopted by the Planning Board. The update is never adopted by the Town board.
In August of 2000, Consulting Firm of Fox Fowle puts together a proposal called Area/Vision Strategic Plan for Huntington Station. Based on their proposal, the Town Board hired the consulting firm Fox Fowle to prepare a new Revitalization Plan for Huntington Station. The plan was unveiled in April of 2002.
At the unveiling of the HS Revitalization Plan prepared by Fox Fowle, it is estimated that somewhere between 1000 and 2000 residents pack Huntington High School auditorium to hear the plan. Residents are outraged by the number of housing units in the plan and that it includes 4 story buildings. Nothing is ever built as a result of this plan.
In November of 2002, Petrone announces that “The Town of Huntington is once again about to embark on the arduous task of updating the Master Plan.” This is to be an updated version of the 1993 plan. He claims that the plan is designed to act as a framework for guiding all future development of the Town for the next 20 years.
Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) are sent out to a number of firms around the country requesting that they respond with their plans on how each firm would go about updating the Master Plan.
During this time The Town Board at the urging of the Huntington Station Revitalization Committee adopted a 6 month moratorium prohibiting any commercial or industrial development within the core of the HS Revitalization Area.
In 2003, a press release and newspaper articles are put out stating that Vision Long Island is hired as a consultant to conduct economic analysis, and create a new plan for Huntington Station. This turns out to be nothing more than a press release. According to their Executive Director Eric Alexander, Vision Long Island was never actually hired by the Town of Huntington to produce a Huntington Station plan. In an online post to The Huntingtonian, Mr. Alexander explained, “there was an announcement yes, an article in a local newspaper yes but we met with each of the Council people at the time and their was no consensus on how to proceed after the debacle that was the Fox/Fowle plan. Rather than move forward with no clear mandate we did not request nor receive any funds or produce a community plan for that matter”.
In January 2004 Supervisor Frank Petrone announces a new Master Plan process. It is called “Planning Today for Huntington’s Tomorrow.” The town held meetings with 300 community and civic leaders to discuss “relevant town planning issues and ideas.” The meetings were held in January 2004. In March of that same year, the plan was presented to the community in additional meetings. The town puts out a press release stating “The series of Community Input Meetings will allow citizens the opportunity to express what they want to see for the future of Huntington.” The Town hired the planning firm of Wallace, Robert and Todd (WRT) to undertake the community input process.
Nothing ever came from this plan.
In October of 2006, The Town held a press conference and photo op to announce the ground breaking of the Northridge project. The community was promised a state-of-the-art cultural and retail center on a vacant Town-owned parcel at the corner of Northridge Street and New York Avenue in Huntington Station, just north of Huntington Train Station.
Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and colleagues Mark Cuthbertson, Susan Berland, Stuart Besen, and Glenda Jackson were at the press conference.
At the press conference and “groundbreaking” at the Northridge property site, each of the council people made promises that never happen. The Town’s newest partner in revitalization was introduced to the hopeful residents. It was announced that Giamo/Einsidler Parr would construct a $2.5 million, 15,000-square-foot Northridge Cultural and Retail Center at no cost to the Town. The joint venture consists of Long Island real estate professionals Kathy Giamo of The Giamo Group, Don Einsidler of Einsidler Management, and Ron Parr of the Parr Organization, in partnership with the Town and its Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Architect Eduardo Lacroze is instructed by the Town and the EDC to design the Northridge building in the image of the original Huntington Station firehouse. Many skilled professionals offered their services pro-bono for this project that will never come to be.
The community was promised the construction for the Northridge project was to begin in the Spring of 2007. As of 2013, nothing has ever been built at this site. There are no immediate plans for the Northridge Plan or any other project to be built on this site.
In July of 2008 the Master Plan for Huntington Township is updated again. It is now referred to as Horizon 2020. The Town of Huntington presented the update which is a draft version of “what was to become a roadmap for future development in the Town that includes Huntington Station, East Northport and Dix Hills.”
In 2009 the Town Board hired consulting firm Gannet Flemming to come up with another master plan for Huntington Station and parts of the rest of the Township. According to Town Board resolution 2009-65 which was offered by Frank Petrone and Seconded by Susan Berland, Gannet Flemming was hired for consulting services in relation to the Brownfield Opportunities Grant. The money to pay Gannet Flemming came from a NY State grant that was received by the Town in 2009. During the time of this vote, the Democrats had a 5-0 majority on the Town Board consisting of Frank Petrone, Mark Cuthbertson, Susan Berland, Glenda Jackson and Stu Besen. They all voted for the resolution. Gannet Flemming was given $100,000 of public money to prepare the report.
In June of 2010, Gannet Flemming, completed the report known as Draft Huntington Station Transportation Hub Nomination Study and sometimes referred to as “The Brownfield Report”. The 136 page report mainly focused on a 640 acre area located in Huntington Station. The report outlined the potential and goals for the area, with a large emphasis on high density housing and on Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The report is kept a secret from the public.
It includes 1600 units of housing; buildings of 4 – 8 stories; it permitted buildings to be 45 feet high, A general rule was that 15 to 24+ units were needed per acre; and assembling parcels assumable by eminent domain.
One of the most significant parcels in the latest “secret plan” is 1345 New York Avenue, also known as the Rotondo site. The parcel is located behind the Huntington Station Branch Library. The story surrounding this parcel is puzzling. Here’s a short summary of the debacle surrounding this property:
On March 2, 2002, the town board scheduled a public hearing for the purpose of acquiring 1345 G New York Avenue. There was little opposition to this because the property had a long history of causing major problems in the community.
Three days after the public hearing was scheduled, on March 5, there is an auction of the property. The property went to auction for the failure to pay back taxes. At auction, the property sold to a subsidiary of the Dejana company called New York Avenue Properties.
The Town continued with its plans to acquire this parcel regardless of the fact that it had been purchased by another company. Prior to New York Avenue Properties buying the land, there had been no taxes collected on this parcel. The new owners began to pay taxes of which approximately $20,000 went to the Huntington School District. Four months after the property was purchased by New York Avenue Properties, the town Board voted 5 – 0 to acquire the property by eminent domain. This occurred in July 2002.
After a long and costly legal battle between New York Avenue Properties and the Town of Huntington, the new owners were required by law to vacate the property. This occurred in August 2007.
After New York Avenue Properties lost their right to the property they purchased at auction, they stopped paying pay taxes. The Huntington School District lost the revenue. No taxes have been paid on that parcel for the 5+ years since New York Avenue properties was forced to vacate the land.
Sources tell us that New York Avenue properties intended to use the parcel for commercial development and the plan did not involve housing.
There has been no progress towards development, preservation or clean up of the land. To this day, the town denies that they have any specific plans for this parcel of land despite the fact that it is mentioned numerous times in the Brownfield study report.
In April of 2010, the town board and the EDC gave a presentation at a Huntington School Board meeting. The presentation was scheduled after public outrage due to the lack of progress in revitalization, increased crime and lack of code enforcement. The Power Point presentation starts with a slide that states:
“We know you’re are outraged. We heard your message loud and clear. We need to do better. We can do better”.
There is no mention of the current $100,000 plan being created by Gannet Flemming.
At the presentation to the school district residents, the Town and the EDC list their latest accomplishments as Gateway Park; 1000 new York Avenue; Columbia Street/ Take Back the Blocks and the renovation of 1264 – 1268 New York Avenue.
1. Gateway Park currently exists on the corner of New York Avenue and Lowndes. In order to complete the project, the town takes property from a local resident by eminent domain. Amazingly, this is the second time that this same family had property taken by eminent domain. Forty years prior the state DOT took the front edge of this parcel by eminent domain. They claimed that they needed to widen and change a dangerous curve on New York Avenue.
The work was never completed. All the state accomplished was to tear down a quaint little house in the middle of Huntington Station. The road remains just as it was before the acquisition. Despite opposition from the current owner, the town voted to take the property for the intention of increasing the size of Gateway park. After acquiring it, the property was removed from the tax rolls causing Huntington School district to lose more revenue.
2. 1000 New York Avenue is also taken over by eminent domain. The land owner doesn’t maintain the property and it becomes an eyesore. The promise is that a new-mixed use building and a town built pedestrian plaza will be completed in 2011.
As of today, the plaza is being built. It looks like it will be attractive and close to the rendering, unfortunately there is no immediate plan to build the mixed use building. The pedestrian plaza will sit next door to a Pawn Shop. This is what the Pawn Shop looks like:
A statue was purchased at a cost to tax payers of $65,000. There are no longer any specific plans to build the “mixed-use” building.
3. The Columbia Street/ Take Back The Blocks Program refers to a parcel of land on Columbia Street in Huntington Station. The proposal is to build 8 homes with 8 accessory apartments. The money to build the housing is said to be coming from a $1.56 million grant from NY State. It is estimated that the entire project will cost more than $2.5 million.
In order to complete the proposed project, the dilapidated property was purchased from Don Pius for $778,000. Many residents felt the purchase was well above the market value. After the town took ownership, the parcels were removed from the tax rolls and the Huntington School district lost more tax revenue.
In addition to the $778,000 paid for the parcel, there was a cost of $100,000 for infrastructure improvements. This of course, doesn’t include the cost of building the proposed 8 homes that will include 8 accessory apartments.
There have only been 2 homes occupied in 6 years since the town board first introduced the Take Back the Blocks program.
At an October 2010, press conference and ground breaking celebration the promise from Town hall was that the homes were to be occupied by December 2011. The state of the property is shown in a photo below right.
Current State of the Proposed Columbia Street Housing
4. Town Hall and the EDC announced renovations at 1264-1268 New York Avenue. They announced that the plans will include a dental office that will provide free services to those in need in the community. The plans also included a business incubator. With more than a million dollars in public money, renovations moved forward.
An upscale, state of the art dental office was completed. Shortly after the grand opening celebration, residents begin to notice that the office in rarely, if ever open. Shorty there after the dental office is closed and all the costly equipment is ripped out. As of today, there is no longer a dentists office on the property. We have inquired several times with Town Hall what happened to the Dentist’s office and the equipment. At this point our requests for information have been ignored.
The 1264—1268 New York Avenue property was originally purchased from Don Pius. After being purchased, it was removed from the tax rolls. Apartments with children were included. The Huntington School district who serve these children receive no revenue from the property. Since the facility is town owned, it is receives a tax exempt status.
In 2012, the current master developer Renaissance Downtowns took over what was supposed to be the business incubator in 1268 New York Avenue. They, as well as a variety of other tenants at the site, pay rent to the Community Development Agency (CDA). All rent collected goes into a fund for the CDA except for a portion that is used to subsidize the Don Pius Scholarship.
The above 4 projects make up what the town and the EDC boast as their latest accomplishments.
The frustration with town hall grew when the public learned about their latest plan to downzone a large portion of Huntington Station.
In March of 2010 the First Avalon Bay/TOD hearings were held. Initially, there was not widespread outrage to this latest and most dramatic attempt to bring high density housing to Huntington Station.
Most residents didn’t know about the plan to bring 520 units of housing to a parcel on E 5th street that was at the time zoned for single family homes. Even less known was the fact that the downzoning resolution involved creating a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around a 1/2 mile radius of the Huntington train station.
After the residents learned of the magnitude of the plan, widespread opposition begans. The proposal effected thousands of single family home owners in Huntington Station.
Residents attempted to obtain an official copy of the map of the proposed TOD area so they could determine which parcels were included. They were told by town officials that none existed. It was eventually determined that town hall officials were lying and there was a map that was dated more than a year prior to the requests.
After many packed and heated town Hall meetings, in September of 2010 the town board voted down the TOD and in turn the current proposal by Avalon Bay.
Local residents were given a false sense of security. Despite wide spread opposition by local residents and the Huntington School District BOE, Supervisor Petrone, Councilman Cuthbertson and former councilwoman Jackson, invite Avalon Bay to submit another proposal.
In June of 2011, the town board approved the rezoning of the 26 acre parcel on which Avalon Bay communities plans to build a 379 unit housing development.
The Greater Huntington Civic group filed a law suit to stop the development. The case is currently on appeal.
And … Petrone decides to look for another Master Developer….
In April of 2011 at the direction of Supervisor Petrone, the Town issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). It stated that the town was looking for a Master Developer/Partner who could help devise and implement an action plan for the next phase of Huntington Station’s revitalization.
The RFQ stated that the Town was seeking “experienced and knowledgeable real estate development organizations” that will assist the town with “development and redevelopment ideas and strategies to fulfill both existing revitalization concepts and in developing new ones.” The RFQ also foresees the Master Developer helping to structure the strategic alliances or partnerships that will be needed to achieve the next level of revitalization.” Renaissance Downtown responded to the RFP.
In 2012, Renaissance signed a contract to begin the process of revitalizing Huntington Station. The agreement does not include any payment to Renaissance.
Matt Harris stated, “It is my belief that after 45 years of governmental mis-steps, countless and useless studies, and blatant mistakes, that we now have our last best chance of redevelopment along New York Avenue, and the tax benefits they will provide to SD 3, with Renaissance Downtowns.
Harris continued, “As I stated to Supervisor Petrone a few months back in writing, along with 7 other diverse, but like minded residents, “At this juncture, we are looking forward to Renaissance Downtowns acting as the lead agency for the Huntington Station revitalization effort. Their mission for the revitalization of Huntington Station will be to manage public support for redevelopment by the train station.”
Greater Huntington Civic group president, Steve Sprucces, concluded, the true barometer of the level of trust for the town will come during the next election process which is this November when Supervisor Petrone and Councilman Cuthbertson are up for re-election.
Resident Rich McGrath believes that the solution will come when the focus is on commercial development. “With it will come jobs, taxes, and true revitalization. Government has wasted 50 years, it’s time they get out of the way and let the private sector do the job.”