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Federal Suit Claims L.I. Village Had Biased Zoning

The suit alleges village leaders of Garden City intentionally acted to discourage minority residency by rejecting a zoning proposal that would have called for an "affordable housing" component

By Frank Eltman
|  Monday, Jun 17, 2013  |  Updated 5:14 PM EDT
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Federal Suit Claims L.I. Village Had Biased Zoning

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A predominantly white suburban Long Island village is defending itself in federal court against claims of discrimination over the way it approved a zoning policy enacted more than eight years ago.

Two groups that advocate for minorities are suing the village of Garden City, claiming village leaders intentionally acted to discourage minority residency by rejecting a zoning proposal in 2004 that would have called for an "affordable housing" component on a 25-acre parcel of land that was being considered for development.

In the end, the property that formerly housed Nassau County government offices was never sold and no development ever took place on the land.

On Monday in U.S. District Court, attorneys for the New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Inc., argued in opening statements that village officials disregarded the recommendations of an outside consultant and a special committee it had formed, which suggested the parcel of land could be developed into 311 units with a mix of private housing, townhouses and "affordable housing" apartments.

But the lawsuit contends that when village residents — more than 97 percent of whom are white, according to attorneys — aired complaints about the proposal, it was scaled back to a proposal where only about 3 acres would be set aside for affordable housing apartments.

"Garden City had zoned the possibility of affordable housing out of existence," attorney Stanley Brown told U.S. District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt, who will decide the case in a non-jury trial.

About 30 members of the two organizations involved in the lawsuits — including one elderly woman in a wheelchair — sat through the court proceedings on eastern Long Island.

Attorney James G. Ryan, who represents the village, countered that the village board was acceding to the wishes of its constituency in making the zoning changes after a number of public hearings.

He contended residents had aired concerns about increased traffic in the area of the proposed development, as well as the impact of additional residents would have on public school enrollment, and other issues.

"There is no evidence that adopting these zoning changes would have an impact on the number of minorities who might live there," he argued.

The plaintiffs are asking the judge to issue an order forcing the village, located about 30 miles east of Manhattan, to develop a minority housing plan. The trial is expected to last about three weeks. There was no indication when the judge might rule.

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