By 7 p.m. on Aug. 19 there was "standing" room only at North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset, as more than 300 discontented residents, mostly from New Hyde Park, arrived to discuss the newly passed Accessory Apartment Law.
The new law was passed during the last town board meeting, on July 29, the heart of the summer, with only a handful of residents present and with no prior notice to any school or civic groups of a change in the law to replace the Mother/Daughter ordinance in the Town of North Hempstead. It will not affect the villages in the town, except to perhaps bring in additional children to the area, which would increase school taxes.
Just before the meeting, which usually starts at 7:30 p.m. but was erroneously billed by some of the local civics and by a 311 operator, to start at 7 p.m., a flier was distributed informing those present that a special meeting, to discuss the new ordinance, would be held on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at Clinton Martin Park, on the corner of New Hyde Park Road and Marcus Avenue, New Hyde Park.
Those in attendance were afraid that this was a maneuver to have the topic shelved until that meeting and they were determined not to let that happen since they all had come from the New Hyde Park area to discuss the Accessory Apartment ordinance.
Supervisor Kaiman did, at 7 p.m., open a short meeting of the Business & Tourism Development Corporation, to announce that the town will be holding a Family Fest on Sept. 14, from noon on, at the North Hempstead Beach Park (formerly Bar Beach) on West Shore Road, Port Washington.
After that meeting adjourned he addressed the issue at hand. He announced that the Sept. 16 meeting would be held at Clinton Martin Park to discuss Accessory Apartments, but he said, "Since so many of you are here I think it is appropriate to have some discussion to let you know what actually is being discussed."
The discussion was officially "off the record" since the town stenographer was not taking notes and throughout the discussion that fact irritated many of the residents.
Kaiman started his discussion with a review. He said, "We want to tell you what actually is the Mother/Daughter/Accessory Housing ordinance. I have been reading some of the emails and some of the concerns and have actually discussed it with some of the residents who have contacted me through email during the last several days.
"The town has had an Accessory Housing law for years and it is called Mother/Daughter Housing and it basically means you can create a small apartment in your house if you are father/son or mother/daughter. It is limited as to size but the particular type of ordinance that we did have was very limited.
"Therefore, the question before the board about a month ago was whether or not to address the restrictions, address those restrictions and then open it up to perhaps an aunt, a friend or to someone you work with. The type of Accessory Housing we were talking about is not the type that creates two-family housing and it's not something somebody can go and market their home as having a separate apartment and that's what, I think, a lot of people were anticipating was happening.
"This type of ordinance requires that anybody who wants to create a space within their home would have to apply for a variance and go before the Board of Zoning and Appeals. They in turn would require a notice sent out to all local neighbors and there would be a hearing and then the neighbors would have the opportunity to comment on the application and that would then be approved or disproved by the BZA Board.
"The restrictions attached to the ordinance would be that the homeowner would have to not only live in the house, but whoever is part of that Accessory Housing would have to be part of the house which means that they would have to go through the front door of the home. There would be no separate entrance and you would not be able to create a vestibule and have a separate entrance behind the front door and you would have to park in the same driveway. So, presumably you are letting someone into your home that you know and who you trust, so its perceived that it will be a family member, an associate, a neighbor-someone who needs to live in the area but can't afford their own home. The theory is that you can help seniors stay in the neighborhood longer because they could rent to one of their relatives or friends, someone they know and trust. Because you are letting someone go through your front door, the assumption is that you are not going to have this type of housing that some here are concerned about.
"It does exist in most other towns on Long Island. I don't anticipate that there are any problems. Further, there would be an additional assessment on the home so that the additional taxes would cover any additional services that might exist. There are fees for rental registration because they would have to register with the town allowing the town to come in and inspect bi-annually so that there is an ability to confirm that, in fact, they are doing what they say they are doing.
"Also, there is a limit on who may live there. In the Mother/Daughter there was no limit but now there is a limit of three people. Illegal housing is one of the reasons we are trying to address this type of law. We are trying to create a situation that if someone is trying to manipulate their home: (1) They will have to pay additional taxes; (2) We will be allowed to inspect the home to make sure that the space is being used correctly; (3) There will be additional restrictions so that there is no negative impact on the neighborhood so they will have to park in the driveway or garage and they can't park in the street and that means they will have the keys to the house the same as the homeowner. "
Kaiman said, "It is further expected that over the course of a year there might be two or three applications for an Accessory Apartment."
To that remark the crowd started to shout out disagreeing with his assumption. He said, "For the last 10 years we have only gotten about 72 applications."
At which point, someone in the back of the room said, "Could you please speak slower, we can barely understand you."
He continued, "The expectation is based on what other communities have done."
The crowd shouted out, "What communities?"
He answered, "Most other towns."
He was asked again, "What towns? Name them."
He said, "The Town of Hempstead. Now, I will take a few questions but we will have a public meeting to discuss this with the community. You know nothing is in stone. We thought this was generally a good idea."
The crowd responded by shouting that it wasn't a good idea.
Kaiman said, "The goal was to do something I think is positive."
One resident said, "Are there minutes from this July 29 meeting, because I would like to see who introduced this and what their motivation was behind this proposal."
Kaiman answered, "I introduced it and the motivation was that, as I have said, I think that this was an appropriate way to proceed and yes, there are minutes available and just contact the town clerk's office."
Another resident wanted to know if that data, on the other towns that had this ordinance, was available and he was told that it was.
A resident wanted to know if someone moved in with two children to make the three occupants then who pays the school taxes for these additional children?"
There was a round of applause and Kaiman said, "The owner of the house is assessed and the homeowner would have to pay the additional school taxes."
"How then would additional assessment on a home help senior citizens?" was the next question.
He said he would come back to that, but that the ultimate gain of the ordinance was to provide some way for younger people as well as senior citizens to stay in the community.
Marianna Wohlgemuth, president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association, came to the microphone and said she had a couple of questions she would like to ask.
"One thing, I was at the town board meeting when this was passed and had no knowledge of what was contained in the resolution. It was very briefly discussed and it went through very quickly. It wasn't until now that I have had a chance to digest the implications to the communities in North Hempstead.
"I will say that there was no community input. The process was very lacking. There was no community outreach. For you to now outreach to the community is a betrayal. I feel that way. However, this particular Accessory Apartment has the overview of creating "boarding houses" in our town. You say that there are three people; does that include children?"
Supervisor Kaiman established that that would only include three "heads" in the one apartment.
Wohlegemuth said, "So that could be a mother with two children and what would happen if she should get pregnant...what would have to happen...then she would have to leave?"
Kaiman said, "Yes," but that prompted a good amount of laughter and discourse from the audience and before he could continue the crowd had to quiet down.
Kaiman continued, "There are senior housing places that place all sorts of limitations on ages and there are times when someone no longer fits that criteria and the Mother/Daughter does not. This law will have to submit to rental registration rules, to the inspection and there are a whole host of limitations."
Wohlegemuth continued, "Now, I heard, and I haven't confirmed it, but in the Town of North Hempstead we are entitled to pave over 40 percent of our front yards. I'd like that to be confirmed. That would mean, in order to provide for the additional parking space, two additional parking spaces is required for this apartment. I don't know where we are going to get parking spaces unless we build garages. I'm concerned about green space. If everyone who has an Accessory Apartment determines they are allowed to pave over 40 percent of their front yard they are going to do that and that concerns me."
Kaiman said, "In order to apply they have to go before the BZA and they have to approve anything they do. The reality is that we don't anticipate many people to apply for this is because the restrictions are tight and difficult. The parking restriction did not exist for the Mother/Daughter and that does limit the scope."
Yet another shout out from the audience said, "Then why do it at all?"
Wohlegemuth continued, "The BZA process is a process people use to get a variance. I have never, ever, ever in more than 25 years known of the BZA to disapprove or disallow a situation like this. It would be approved.
My last comment is that the average home in New Hyde Park is between 1,100 and 1,400 square feet so 900 square feet would be more than half of the house that someone would be allowed to convert into an Accessory Apartment.
Kaiman said, "That is why these variances will not be freely given out. The BZA will take into an account the scope and size of the house. It is not going to be freely given out and it will have no impact on the community."
Wohlegemuth answered, "I would ask that this town board revisit this resolution and think about a compromise and work something out."
Councilman Angelo Ferrara said, "You have my commitment on this also and that's why we are going to have a meeting on the 16th to hash this out."
A woman in the back yelled out, "How much money do you have in the budget to police this? Are you expecting the people in the community to snitch? That's what has been going on for the last 30 years that I have been living in New Hyde Park. When someone has tried to introduce another family into the home someone makes a phone call. Now, we don't want to have to live that way."
Next to speak, Annette Giarratani, a New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board Trustee said, "What we want is proper notification and we don't want something that is put before the board without that notification. I get the agenda and there was nothing describing Resolution 70, Section 231on that agenda and that is why everyone is so upset about this.
"In my heart, I want to believe that you (Kaiman) and the entire town board has the best interest of all the people in the town. You may think that the people that live in the villages are not going to be affected. When it comes to the impact of the school taxes, whether you live in the incorporated area or the unincorported areas we have to foot the bill and who is going to do it...the homeowners. The bottom line is that you are changing the character of New Hyde Park as well as the town. My question is, how can we, as members of this board turn this around? How can we undo this resolution?"
Kaiman said, "We will not pass any of these ordinances until the end of the year. And, we will discuss this entire situation at the meeting on Sept. 16."
Marietta DiCamillo, president of the North Lakeville Civic Association was next up and started her comments by saying, "North Lakeville Civic Association is adamantly opposed to this ordinance." An immediate applause erupted and it took a few minutes to subside before she could continue.
She said, "How do you propose to police the legal vs illegal accessory apartments. How will a resident know whether or not the apartment has been sanctioned by the BZA or has just been illegally obtained and what tools do the school districts have to be able to do the same? Who is able to answer these questions? Code enforcement is a failure, it's non-existent. Try to get someone to give a ticket out on a Saturday to a violator then you have to bother the Nassau County Police, which is a complete waste of time. The fact that this was not researched with the benefit of any civic groups or school groups is bothersome."
"What happens when people go to sell their newly expanded McMansions and the real estate person tells a buyer you can afford this...just create an accessory apartment, it's legal in North Hempstead,"
A former water commissioner from the Garden City Park Fire Water Company asked if the fire companies and water companies had been involved in this decision. He was told that was not the case and he said this will put a tremendous burden on all firefighters as well the water suppliers in every area of the town.
President of the New Hyde Park Civics James McHugh said he was one of only another civic representative at the meeting on July 29. He said he felt that there was a group in attendance that was supporting the ordinance and he said he did not know what was being voted on because it was presented in such a vague way.
He said, "So, I did a little digging since it was passed through in such a hurry. In 2006 this legislation was put forth and the group involved was the Affordable Housing Task Force of Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, a Veatch mini-grant was provided for funding, there was a task force that met with you (Kaiman) and there were 25 groups involved and basically they were pushing the agenda item they wanted. Their slogan is, 'INDIE, Yes, in my backyard.' I would like to know who those 25 groups were because they certainly were not any civic or school organizations. We were kept totally in the dark. These people knew about it and they were here to push it."
Kaiman said, "The organizations supporting this are very public in supporting affordable housing. They have come to us to build affordable housing and we said it is not realistic and we are not going to be building affordable housing complexes, so this seemed to be a way to address that to have the least impact on the community. The question is will this have a negative impact on our community and it seems that we are discussing that tonight."
McHugh answered, "What this looks like is bad news. Our entire civic board came up with 15 reasons why this would have a negative impact on our community, but I'm saving those reasons for the Sept. 16 meeting."
Resident after resident came to the microphone to protest the accessory apartment ordinance and finally one man in the back said, "If you want us to get out of your face and leave this meeting just put this on the record. Open the meeting, officially, and state that you are going to not move forward with this until you have the open meeting on September 16."
The crowd pursued and finally Kaiman did just that...he officially opened the North Hempstead Town Board meeting, on the record and said the following, "We are now on the record. The town board, unable to take official action, has made a commitment to the community residents before us today, that is before, and we did have a lengthly 30 to 45-minute discussion on accessory housing and many representatives and individuals living in the community have expressed their passionate objection to this ordinance. They have raised a number of points including our not communicating with organizations that would have input into this and that we need to communicate with them before any action is taken and we have agreed that we will do that. We will convene a public meeting on Sept. 16 and we will further have discussions as to what this town board should do to make sure that the concerns of this particular community and all of the communities are met."
At that point, all the residents, being satisfied, filed out of the room telling the board they would "see you on Sept. 16"...and the board meeting continued.