Opinion

The pending proposition to rezone the Manhasset Isle waterfront to E-2 classification, in the vast area proposed and with the legislation as written, will result in a multitude of negative consequences that will impact the maritime character of our community, as well as the financial well-being and safety of many of its residents and boaters.

No one is against development. But it must be undertaken in a way that preserves and doesn't destroy the interests of Manhasset Isle and Port Washington's residents, boaters and marina operators. This can only be achieved with a series of public hearings where a variety of meaningful viewpoints and ideas can be weighed, and everyone's interests considered. The cancellation of two such meetings in the past week alone by the powers that be in Manhasset Isle is a disheartening development. It can only lead to one conclusion - that there's a rush to green light legislation that is presently half-baked at best and ill-intentioned at worst.

As written, the legislation pretty much offers a carte blanche cache of appetizing loopholes for developers. The consequences of which would likely include:

-Dramatic increase in population due to aggressive condo developments (up to 500+ units) and its impact on traffic volume, pedestrian safety, property value and marketability and the need for improvements in all already stressed services like our sewer systems - the bill for which would likely be footed by all taxpayers;

-Dramatic (minimum 66 percent and likely far greater) reduction of public access to and usage of marinas and slips, and a financial downturn for the many area businesses that are dependent upon them;

-A host of negative aesthetic and environmental impacts including, but not limited to, a transformed waterfront architecture and decreased water views;

-The overnight extinction of the rights of Manhasset Isle's centuries' old "floating home" community, a group of long-standing tax-paying residents including seniors and children whose health, well-being and education would be compromised.

Let's consider for a moment the latter group of which I am a proud member, Port Washington's floating home community.

If one can look beyond Shore Road for guidance, you will see that long-standing floating home communities like ours are being embraced (rather than seemingly biannually threatened) in many forward-thinking, "most livable cities," from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco to Vancouver, Toronto and Paris. They're viewed as picturesque community assets, ones that heighten the profile and attractiveness of their towns through annual floating home tours, web sites, postcards and even coffee table books (check out: The Houseboat Book by Barbara Flanagan). A quick Google of "floating home" may open your mind to what we have here right in our bay and what it can become with support.

So just who lives down in Port Washington's 50+ strong floating home community? Hard-working families and individuals who truly embody the broad demographic of our town in every way, ones who have invested to support this community and who are socially tied to its schools, churches and other institutions. There are doctors, teachers, interior designers and marketing execs. Also airplane and boat mechanics, electricians, carpenters and IT nerds. Also there are retirees, fifth graders, high school and college students. Families who it should be noted pay their fair share of school tax and local income tax. Many have called Manhasset Island's marinas home from more than 20 years. And the community has virtually been with us since the first oyster was shucked on these shores, even before the sand miners who are rightfully being memorialized at this moment with a monument down by Bar Beach.

And if you haven't visited us, you might be surprised to know our homes, and the degree of care and feeding that goes into them, is much like your own. Recent arrivals have invested into six figures for floating homes smartly marketed by leading realtors, ones that feature the requisite amenities of hardwood floors, fireplaces, skylights, marble kitchen counters, flat screen TVs, broadband connections - just like your own. The industrious souls who may have gotten theirs for a song years back have devoted countless hours in sweat equity and given substantial Benjamins over to Home Depot to build a cozy nest you would be happy to call your own. Nature being the two-faced mistress that she is, we both delight in and suffer from what she gives us on the water, in summer and winters. We count and give names to baby swans, ducks and osprey who arrive each spring, while we mentally prepare to deal with the November Nor' Easters that test our nervous systems, dock lines and roof shingles. And it's also important to note that we have great relations with our marina owners and the guys who work so hard in them, to maintain this always pleasurable and sometimes challenging existence.

In my own case, as the father of two children, my home and community is well-known amongst a host of this town's youngsters, who crowd aboard for the delightfully-trying traditions of the "sleepover" (a girl thing) and the video game marathon (the boy thing), sometimes even for a little multi-tracking recording. When it comes to friendly and helpful, floating homers rule, not only with the concern we lend to help each other cope with life on the water, but the open door policy most seem to have to curious locals and visitors who wander down our docks.

Now back to the proposition. As presently written, it doesn't even devote a full sentence to the long-time tradition and the fate of floating homeowners in the grand plan for the Port Washington waterfront of the future. It simply "excludes houseboats."

As anyone who follows the news knows, real estate development goes hand in hand with preservation and public works. Preservation of traditions, creation of public spaces and access is a pre-requisite that every major developer knows is the price of entry. The legislation, as drafted, makes no provisions for this all-important matter.

The current proposition literally cuts the dock lines attaching 50+ tax-paying families to this town, and gives them a good kick out into the bay. For Port Washington boaters and those who come from around the metro NY area to use them and support our businesses, it means that private interests will control the lion's share of this asset - a likely reduction in the total number of available slips, with 2/3rd going to condos.

There is a way with development that all the concerned parties can be winners, with thoughtful discussion, public hearings, where ideas and implications for the future are weighted, by the parties it will affect most - family-owned marina who have worked long for a pay out on their labor, boaters and floating home owners. Perhaps waterfront development and rezoning should be initiated in a phased plan starting with now derelict areas, rather the whole enchilada approach on the table? Perhaps, as in Portland, long-time floating home residents could be grandfathered into a plan and be offered a stake in a collective at a now shuttered marina or a slice of the larger ones on the block? At present, these and many better ideas will not be vetted as public hearings have been cancelled and not rescheduled, even though a petition for this is presently gaining steam and signatures around our town.

We only need look to national politics to know what happens when we sign off on propositions that aren't thought all the way through. The powers that be on Manhasset Isle need to reopen a series of public hearings to give this matter serious and measured consideration, and for the opportunity for the win-win ideas to emerge. If trustees are forced to cast a vote now, in the absence of meaningful public consideration, a "no" is the only way to go.

Sal Cataldi

Manhasset Isle


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