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Rental Housing Up In Smoke? 

Residents show support with signs for affordable, for-sale units on 8.1 acres on Ruland Road Dec. 10.

After turning down a settlement offer from the NAACP last week to end a decade-long housing discrimination suit, the Town of Huntington’s counteroffer for a plan for the Melville property may have almost the same number of units, but with one critical difference – they would be ownership instead of rentals.

The settlement, which Huntington’s town board turned down unanimously on Dec. 10, would have cleared the way for 77 one-bedroom, 34 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom affordable rental units on the 8.1 acre parcel along Ruland Road.

Attorney Christopher Campbell, who is representing the Huntington NAACP, said Friday it was his “sense” that an “informal overture” had been made to back a similar 117-unit distribution, but as a community of homeowners.

A settlement would end an 11-year court battle over affordable housing tied to The Greens at Half Hollow senior community in Melville before the case is scheduled to go to trial in February 2014. The Huntington NAACP alleges previous plans to include only one-bedroom ownership units in the Ruland Road property – an affordable housing offset to The Greens – is discriminatory against minorities and families with children.

Prospective developer Peter Florey of D&F Development has an option to buy the land until Dec. 31, and said he would not buy another option should his current one lapse.

Northport-based attorney Jim Clark, who is representing the town in its defense of the suit, declined to comment Monday on specifics of any possible settlement, but said ending litigation is a priority.

“Certainly I have relayed… conceptually a counterproposal on behalf of the town and we’ve agreed to continue discussing various options to try to get the case settled,” Clark said.

Before the NAACP will consider a counteroffer, however, they want the town board to ratify it first, Campbell said.

“We’re always happy to talk to them. Any sort of counteroffer proposal, for us to consider it seriously at all, it needs to be voted on and pre-approved by the board,” Campbell said. “We’ve done the reverse and that has not worked out.”

He is referring to what happened in August, when a resolution to settle the case was pulled last-minute from the town board agenda after local civic leaders who support ownership units on Ruland Road found out the plan was for rentals.

After that, Campbell said, the NAACP agreed to push off a December trial date to make a “last-ditch effort” to settle the suit, but to no avail.

The Huntington NAACP is the remaining plaintiff on a 2011 lawsuit filed alongside the Fair Housing in Huntington Committee, which alleged plans to include only one-bedroom ownership units in the Ruland Road property is discriminatory against minorities and families with children.

Alleging Fair Housing Act violations, Fair Housing first filed suit in 2002 over The Greens development. The Huntington NAACP joined an amended version of the suit, which included allegations about the Ruland Road proposal, in 2004. After that case was dismissed in 2010, Fair Housing and the Huntington NAACP sued again in March 2011, focusing their allegations of discrimination on the proposed Ruland Road development. Fair Housing dropped out of the current lawsuit this summer.

While Supervisor Frank Petrone said after the vote that the town is “anxious” to continue negotiating, Ulysses Spicer, second vice president of the Huntington NAACP, questioned on the value of further negotiations.

“I can’t say that there won’t be any more negotiations, but I don’t think there’s any need for any additional negotiations. We’ve heard from practically everybody in the town tonight,” Spicer said, referring to the strong support for rental housing by speakers at the hearing. “I mean, who’s left? What do they need to hear?”

If the current case goes to trial and the Huntington NAACP wins, Campbell said they will ask for more two- and three-bedroom units and legal fees.

“The conceding has been done on our side and there has been virtually none by the town,” he said. “We would certainly ask for more. The current arrangement is a concession on our part.”

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