Thirty Year Battle of Matinecock Court – Part 1
For More than 30 years there has been an ongoing and costly battle about the fate of a 14.5 acre plot of land on the corner of Elwood Road and Pulaski in East Northport. In 1978 a not-for-profit group called Housing Help requested a change in the zoning code in order to build 162 federally subsidized housing units to be called Matinecock Court. The land had been zoned for single family homes.
Ken Butterfield who was the democratic Town Supervisor at the time, received bipartisan support in opposing the rezoning. The reasons given was that the plan would interfere with the Town of Huntington Master Plan for zoning and interfere with the Urban Renewal Project. Other reasons for opposition were that traffic was too heavy in the area; planning was poor; the size of the units were inappropriate; and there were protests of hundreds of areas residents.
In 1981, the Town Board turned down Housing Help’s proposal for the reasons listed above. It is interesting to note that at the same time the Town Board was concerned about the traffic impact on the corner of Elwood Road and Pulaski road, they were in support of a development proposed for the corner of Broadway and Rte. 110 in Huntington Station.
After the denial, Housing Help and the NAACP sues the Town in federal court in the hopes of forcing a rezoning. The lawsuit alleges that the Town is in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act prohibits zoning laws that discriminate against groups of people. Housing Help and the NAACP bring the lawsuit because they believe that the Town is intentionally and systematically trying to segregate minorities and the poor to one section of town in Huntington Station known as the Urban Renewal area.
The Town wins the original lawsuit in federal trial court, known as the U.S. District Court. The Town obtained outside counsel and spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money fighting the case. In 1988 a federal Appeals Court found that Huntington perpetuated segregation through zoning ordinances that confined construction to a small defined area of Huntington Station. The Court of Appeals found that the Town was guilty of racial discrimination.
As a result of this ruling the court ordered the Town of Huntington to rezone the 14.8 acres to allow for the apartments. The Town appeals the decision. The appeal was denied and the Supreme Court upheld the decision.
In 1989, the Town board rezones the property as ordered by the courts. The new zoning allows for a maximum of 210 town house style rental units.
As part of the Fair Housing Act, the defendant can be required to pay the legal fees if the person suing wins the case. In this case the Town of Huntington is ordered to pay nearly $1,000,000 to cover the cost of Housing Help’s attorney fees.
To be continued tomorrow…