( Image above: FIA Females in Action)
Egads! Has it really been a month since I last posted? I knew I’d be taking a couple of weeks off from posting to make time for a family trip to Boston over the holidays. I also knew that once we returned we’d be facing a difficult several weeks as we prepared to fight our biggest battle in our hometown since we started our SaveHuntingtonVillage campaign about a year ago. Those several weeks have been even more challenging than I thought they’d be. We were preparing for a big event that took place about three days ago. But things didn’t happen as planned. Let me explain.
Our mission as a community group that has named itself Save Huntington Village has been to put an end to overdevelopment in our lovely town. Developers have swooped down on the town for the past couple of years, bought a lot of property in the heart of the village and on the fringes, and have been rapidly changing the face of the town. We have gone from a medium-sized quaint and historic community, with lots of artistic venues and local restaurants, to a community of apartment buildings on steroids popping up everywhere. This is largely due to a change in code by the previous administration in 2006 which allowed for hi-density development over commercial properties in town.
A year ago members of SHV discovered that one of the town’s oldest bars, admittedly a dive bar, was going to be torn down and replaced by a four-story building with retail shops and three floors of apartments. Admittedly, the bar is an ugly duckling but it’s as much a part of Huntington as the library, the old First Presbyterian Church, the Revolutionary-era cemetery, and the school that was turned into a beloved community center. In addition, it sits within the boundaries of a very precious eco system protecting Huntington Harbor. My son and his girlfriend started a petition to save the bar.
In our research to save the bar, we learned that it was sitting on delicate marshland that is part of the watershed of the Town of Huntington. This means that all rain water and runoff in our town and nearby communities runs downhill through this wetland area until it reaches the harbor. By government contract, nothing is supposed to be built on this marshland in order to preserve its health and its function as a living natural drainage area in times of flooding. It is a vital part of our natural resources.
One discovery after another led to learning that many sites that have already been developed in town were built despite restrictions on the land, but there had been no local oversight. The members of our town government were happily making deals with developers while the townspeople remained uninformed (and some willfully ignorant) about what was going on. Because of this illegal situation, we invited three environmental experts to one of our Town Hall meetings to enlighten the public that our harbor is one of the most polluted on the North Shore of LI.
Because we are a family devoted to conservation of the natural environment, these discoveries fired us up even more and have led to a year of attending Planning Board, Zoning Board and Town Hall meetings as often as we can to keep up with the latest shenanigans in which the town is engaged. We have also gathered 1600 signatures for a petition to change the building code and made many presentations before the three boards regarding the undesirable development and environmental destruction taking place in our town.
We have had some small victories. We have stopped (for now) the sale of the bar due to environmental concerns; we have stopped (for now) a collection of apartments that were poised to be built on the edge of a creek which is part of the underground waterway system of the water shed, and we have done a good deal to educate the townspeople about the fragile nature of our local harbor and wetlands surrounding it.
Our biggest and latest battle was to stop a new development that would knock down an entire block of small businesses in the heart of town adjacent to a precious historic area, to be replaced by a four-story apartment building with a parking garage beneath it. This is equivalent to allowing the Queen Mary to pull up alongside some village shops on a narrow country street. All the apartments recently built in town are advertised as luxury apartments with rents ranging from $3000 and up to $5000. These are rents that no one in our town can afford but are meant to attract outsiders who are “downsizing” and no longer wish to own a home. Consequently most residents between the ages of 20 and 30ish have nowhere to live except at home with their parents unless they decide to leave town altogether.
We had succeeded in building up a sizeable group of locals resistant to the idea of this latest imposition and the Zoning Board meeting that would finally decide its/our fate was held last Thursday night. The night before this meeting the Planning Board actually “strongly” recommended to the Zoning Board that the project not be allowed to go forward. So many residents showed up for the meeting, it had to be rescheduled to accommodate everyone in a larger space. We knew this was a delaying tactic but there was nothing we could do. Now we are planning for the next meeting despite our exhaustion.
So that is why I haven’t been writing my weekly posts. Instead I’ve been deeply involved in local politics (which I never thought possible) in order to preserve what’s left of our lovely environment. My entire family has been involved. We’ve learned a lot about our local history, about local wheeling and dealing, about local ordinances, about creating a campaign and a following. But most of all, we’ve been making like-minded friends who share our concerns and our passion, giving new meaning to the phrase “It takes a village to….” We are still in the fight!