Gurney's Inn
April 26, 2006

Neighborhood Preservation Next?

Environmentalists have predicted that within 10 years, Suffolk County will reach total build-out. What will happen once the race to purchase open space and farmland has ended?

One county legislator's effort to help constituents in a troubled section of his district may prove a harbinger of the next phase of public preservation. Only it won't involve protecting land. It will mean protecting communities.

For over a year, Legislator Jon Cooper, (D-Lloyd Harbor) has asked colleagues on the horseshoe to support an unusual initiative, assisting with the purchase and rehabilitation of a house in Huntington Town he's dubbed "the single most crime-ridden address" in his district. So crime ridden, in fact, that a nearby school has had to undergo "lockdown" because of the extent of violent drug activity there.

The debate over whether the county should step in to purchase single family homes has continued for months. At the most recent session of the legislature, it was clear that Cooper, Democratic caucus leader, hadn't even swayed all of his own party members to his side of the argument. Opponents were predominantly worried about the precedent such an effort could set. Should such an initiative achieve support, Legislator Ellie Mystal (D-Amityville) threatened to produce a list of 100 homes in his district that could be similarly saved.

Perhaps they should be, Legislator Louis D'Amaro (D-Huntington Station), a newcomer to the debate mused. He supported Cooper's comment during the debate, "If we are comfortable spending money for a soccer team or for lighting a ball field, as a legislature we have to consider this equally worthy, if not more so."

Overall, lawmakers evinced sympathy for Cooper's desire to help his constituents. However, most appeared uneasy with the notion of embarking on what could lead to massive expenditures. Legislator Joe Caracappa (R-Selden) offered a compromise. He suggested creating a new program for residential housing rehabilitation during the upcoming capital budget review process. Tabling his bill, Cooper said he liked that approach.

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