"Upzoning," "Downzoning," And No Zoning At All In Hempstead Town
Can America's largest township regain (or gain for the first time) control over what has been characterized as zoning gone wild?
The rampant destruction of open space. The diminution of lot size. The urbanization of suburbia.
What has become a practice in Hempstead Town, of building oversized houses on undersized lots, now comes under the scrutiny of Hempstead's Town Board.
On Tuesday, April 17th, 10:30 AM, the Hempstead Town Board convenes at Town Hall (Meeting Pavilion, 1 Washington Street, Hempstead), and will consider a 6-month moratorium on new construction of single and two-family houses on substandard lots.
Whether the moratorium will result in any substantive change, either in practice or procedure, or, given the proposed moratorium's relatively short six month window, the Town -- which often measures time in eons, not months -- will have either gumption or capacity to act, remains to be seen.
Still, residents will have this opportunity to let their feelings be known to Town of Hempstead officials at Tuesday's regularly scheduled Town Board meeting [scheduled during the day, so most residents will not be able to attend], and well they should on an issue that defines, in many ways, our mindset of suburbia.
Hmmm. We wonder if the Town of Hempstead would consider a moratorium on illegal accessory apartments in single and two-familiy homes?
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Hempstead considers construction moratorium
By Eden Laikin
The Hempstead town board is considering a six-month moratorium on all new construction of single-family and two-family houses on substandard-sized lots.
The move comes in response to years of complaints by residents that developers were overcrowding neighborhoods by subdividing lots, tearing down houses and then building two houses in place of one.
Critics say the practice, called "upzoning," and the influx of oversized houses dubbed "McMansions" have turned their once spacious suburban neighborhoods into dense, city-like areas.
"This is a good start by the town," said Stu Weinstein, vice president of the North Bellmore Civic Association, a leader in the fight against upzoning.
Weinstein said he has argued about a dozen times on behalf of residents opposed to developers' requests for variances to subdivide. He and other members have appeared before zoning boards, armed with radius maps, lot sizes and their knowledge of real estate law. They've instructed other civic groups in the Bellmore area, Merrick, Wantagh, Freeport and East Meadow.
"Generally, we're trying to get some sort of control," said Richard Schary, a member of the North Bellmore group. "We're out of control, we're losing our neighborhoods block by block."
A public hearing on the proposed moratorium will be held tomorrow at Hempstead Town Hall.
"This moratorium will provide the town board with an opportunity to study current zoning laws and determine if, in light of the recent development boom, town zoning regulations should be modified in order to preserve valuable open space," Supervisor Kate Murray said. "This is an important quality-of-life issue that many residents have indicated they would like the town to consider."
Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), whose district covers Bellmore, Merrick and part of Wantagh, said he personally has helped constituents 33 times since 2005 in opposing variance requests for subdivisions or non-compliant construction in a residential area. "Since 2000, I've probably done 150," he said.
From March 2006 to March 2007, Hempstead's zoning Board of Appeals received 84 requests for variances to subdivide properties. It granted 47 and denied 24. The others were either adjourned, withdrawn or dismissed.
The zoning board, an autonomous entity whose members are appointed by the town, must adhere to New York State law in granting variances to applicants requesting to build on substandard-sized lots. The board must consider whether granting the variance "will produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties."
When faced with the same issue last year, North Hempstead town amended its building code by changing the way it calculates the square footage of houses. Rather than increasing the required size of the lots, the town decided to include storage space as part of the total size of the house.
In 2005, the Town of Oyster Bay applied a temporary moratorium in the hamlet of Oyster Bay in order to study ways of countering the influx of "McMansions." The proposals that came out of that study will be considered for implementation townwide at a public hearing next month. They include a limit on the total square footage of new houses, a reduced maximum height and a public notice period before approving demolition.
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
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Update: Board Approves Building Ban