Tide May Ebb And Flow, But Quality Of Life Issues Remain Mired In The Backwash
It was in June of 2004, almost three years ago, that the Town of Hempstead, through one of its now famous Murraygrams, announced what it auspiciously called a Quality of Life Initiative. [Do not bother to search for the Quality of Life Initiative on the Town's website. Apparently, it long ago fell off the radar screen.]
Your typical 4-page glossy, complete with photos of the Town Supervisor, hyping what many had hoped would usher in an era of proactive governance on the part of the township.
Hope was, however, short-lived.
While telling community leaders that the mailing was "only the beginning," in the ensuing three years , little has ensued, let alone been accomplished -- even by way of the reactive, band-aid governance we've become accustomed to -- and the issues brought to the fore, through the efforts of The Community Alliance and other civic-minded groups -- have essentially fallen by the wayside.
Issues, be they related to illegal accessory apartments, the special taxing jurisdictions, school taxes, or other matters that impact upon our quality of life and our pocket book, seem to bubble up from the ground in an almost cyclical fashion.
Every few years we get a bug in our bonnet (you were thinking elsewhere, we know :-), and the volcano will blow its top on this crisis or that. The lava flows. Seismic activity reaches its peak. Officialdom monitors, moves slightly off center, offers temporary if but ephemeral relief, and then, no sooner than the lava reaches the sea and cools into hardened rock, retreats to the status quo.
We move on to the next issue, and the next, and the one after that, hardly taking notice that the issue before, and the one before that, had been conveniently swept under the floorboards at Town Hall. Mission Accomplished!
Yes, the more things change. . . For years we've been clamoring that the status quo is never good enough. We must expect more and demand better. And yet, the fallback is, more often than not, that tired, old, unwieldy status quo.
Apparently, for too many of us, the status quo -- and even the regular southward departure therefrom -- is a-okay.
Illegal basement apartments driving up property taxes, artificially inflating the value of single-family homes, and placing an untenable burden upon essential services? So what! The status quo has all but institutionalized a system that not only permits the dangerous, costly, and unlawful, but flaunts and favors it.
Special taxing districts, from sanitation and fire to water and sewer, making your wallet lighter? Yeah, so? We "enjoy" footing the bill for patronage fiefdoms -- or so they tell us. Geez. We'd gladly pay twice the going rate!
Suburbia lost? Quality of life a misnomer? Who really gives a hoot? Clearly, neither homeowner nor voter, for, year after year, moaning and groaning notwithstanding, we put up with more of the same, less in our pockets, and a suburban dream that has been all but shattered like fine crystal thrown against a brick wall.
The question is not so much, "How long will what pass for local government continue to do this to us," but rather, "How long will we, the people, continue to give local government the license to diminish the suburban dream to the nightmare it has now become."
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Posted 6/30/04 at www.thecommunityalliance.org
Our Quality of Life
The Town's Response
Town Offers Quality of Life Initiative; Community Groups Demand More
In response to the overtures of The Community Alliance, aimed at eliminating unlawful accessory apartments, the Town of Hempstead has mailed a “Quality of Life Initiative” brochure to Town residents. Spotlighting areas of concern, including refuse collection, parking regulations and restrictions on multi-family use of single-family houses, Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino presented an overview of the rules and regulations now in effect.
Citing limited instances where accessory apartments in single family houses would be permitted (notably, mother/daughter and senior exception, both requiring permits from the Town), the brochure reminds residents that under no circumstances are cellar or basement apartments permitted under Town code.
“It is always appreciated when the Town Supervisor clues in residents as to their responsibilities as good citizens,” opined Seth D. Bykofsky, Co-Chair of The Community Alliance and Chair of the West Hempstead Civic Association’s (WHCA) Zoning Committee. “This is particularly so when it comes to the so-called ‘quality of life’ issues – garbage collection, swimming pool safety, on-street parking and, of course, the rental of accessory apartments.”
With respect to the latter, and the thrust of the recent Town mailing, Bykofsky had this to say: “While accurate, the Town’s missive was short on citing or even alluding to enforcement and woefully weak in stressing ‘zero-tolerance,’ particularly as concerns the cellar or basement apartment. What was needed in the initial assault was, in essence, a 5 ton bunker buster. Unfortunately, what we got from Town Hall was little more than a spit ball.”
Yossi Azose, Chair of the WHCA’s Code Enforcement Committee, echoed Bykofsky’s sentiment. “I was hoping (the Town) would emphasize that there was going to be a crackdown on illegal rentals, and that the Town was actually going to get tough on this issue. Instead, the brochure simply reiterates zoning laws of which all law-breaking landlords are already familiar, but know that they've been getting away with for so long. This will do very little to deter violators from continuing to break the law.”
The Town has reiterated its assurances that they are working with Albany on legislation which would put more teeth into the Town’s bite, beefing up enforcement (recently adding Building Inspectors to the force and staggering their hours so as to offer more appropriate coverage), revamping tracking software and cooperating with the County’s Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson, relative to the Assessor’s plan to tax illegal accessory apartments as commercial properties.
Viewing the Town’s Quality of Life Initiative as an ongoing process, and the mailing to residents as a “valid first step with a positive message,” Bykofsky cautioned, “We intend to keep the fires burning under Town officials. We are going to keep the issue of illegal rental apartments in the news and before our neighbors and our elected representatives, and to forge ahead with our own grass-roots campaign to rid our communities of what is clearly the undoing of suburbia.”
Residents with concerns about quality of life issues, in general, and about illegal rental apartments, in particular, may contact The Community Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Had enough of the status quo? Join and become involved in your local civic association, speak out at The Community Alliance blog (Guest Blogs most welcome), and feel free to send a message to Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray at email@example.com.
Hey, its your town, your money, your quality of life. Make it your vision of suburbia, and let's accomplish what we set out to do so many years ago -- TAKE BACK OUR TOWN!