Hundreds of Half Hollow Hills residents flooded Huntington Town Hall Tuesday night for a public hearing on a plan to create a new park, an affordable senior housing complex and a house of worship on two Melville properties.
“We want a park, we want a park,” chanted nearly 200 residents from outside the main chamber, which overflowed with local civic groups, community members and families requesting a zoning change and transfer of development rights for an 18-acre property on Deshon Drive, which would allow for the creation of “Sweet Hollow Park” on the site of Meyers Farm.
The plan is nine years is the making, said Alissa Sue Taff, president of the Civic Association of Sweet Hollow. The local group began their efforts to create a park for the Sweet Hollow community in 2001 when members asked the town board to acquire the farm from the Meyers family who was looking to sell the property. However, the family sold the land in 2003 to members of Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha-Northeast (BAPS), a Hindu organization, who wished to build a temple on the property, instead. Still wishing for the creation of a community park, the association made an agreement with the BAPS, who said they would not yet build on the site, as long as the civic association could find another suitable place for the temple. After nearly a decade, a location has been found.
The plan is for the temple to split ownership of an 18-acre parcel of land on Deshon Drive, currently owned by Newsday’s former parent, the Tribune Company, with a 261 unit affordable age-restricted senior housing complex. Deshon Partners, developer of the complex would own 13 acres, and the BAPS would have the remaining five acres. The decision would free up the Meyers Farm plot to create Sweet Hollow Park.
The plan was called a “win, win, win” Tuesday by several proponents of the plan who see a need of a park for Sweet Hollow area families, affordable senior housing and a home for the BAPS.
“I would like to have this park for my grandchildren,” Mindy Simon, vice president of the Tuxedo Hills organization said.
“There is no park within the Sweet Hollow community,” added Robert Sands. “We have to put our bikes in our car and drive around to find a park to play in…It’s time we have a park in Sweet Hollow.”
Several children also spoke during the hearing, and asked the town board to approve the plan so that they could have a place for sports and to play.
In order for the plan to go through, the Deshon Drive property must be rezoned from light industry to garden apartment. The transfer of five acres in development rights from the farm to the Deshon Drive property must also be approved.
Opponents of the plan expressed concerns that the transfer of development rights would set a precedent for high density housing in the Town of Huntington.
Steven Spucces, president of the Greater Huntington Civic Group called the transfer of development rights a “Pandora’s box” to unlimited growth in the town.
“The transfer of development rights is a cliff we don’t want to go off,” Nancy Gamby added.
Councilman Gene Cook sent an email to leaders in the Half Hollow Hills and Huntington communities May 8, stating that if the zoning change is passed, the complex could bring approximately 284 additional children to the school district. The Sweet Hollow Civic Association said that Cook’s statement is false since the complex is age-restricted to seniors. A resident requested that Cook be removed from the vote for demonstrating “partial” feelings against the zone change before the public hearing. Cook responded that he will be voting and said that while his email was “certainly not loaded,” he does have “major concerns of transferring rights.”
Councilman Mark Cutherbertson disagreed that the change of zoning would set such a precedent since the circumstances of the transferring rights "are unique" to the Melville properties and called the plan a “tremendous opportunity” for the area.
Taff said that the transfer of development rights in this case, would create more open space in Melville, not less, since for every square-foot of density from the 5-acres that would be transferred, 1.6 square-feet of open space will be created at Sweet Hollow Park. The Town would also be able to buy the farmland at a reduced price, she said, since five acres of the farm sit on a special groundwater protection area, and would become passive parkland.
“This is a very rare opportunity. Melville is under-served in recreational space,” Scott Alford said, adding that the park will “provide a central location for the neighborhood kids to meet."