Town Board OKs code changes

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The Knickerbocker Hotel along Manhasset Bay, a stretch of waterfront that is under the BW moratorium. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

Following years of discussion, North Hempstead’s Town Board approved a series of changes to the town code addressing the Port Washington waterfront on Thursday night.

Town Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, who for the past year spearheaded the efforts, said that the changes were the results of much discussion.

“Over these past nine months, in addition to all of my discussions with the steering committee, I’ve had hundreds of emails and phone calls from people concerned about the height and density of any future development in the BW zone,” Dalimonte said. “As both a long lifelong resident and the representative from Port Washington, I request some additional changes be made to the final proposed code before us today. I believe the code we will be voting on tonight is the right code for Port Washington.”

The changes would affect the designated waterfront business district, which covers the private commercial properties extending from Sunset Park to Manhasset Bay Yacht Club and the area south of the Town Dock.

Since 2017, a building moratorium has been in place in order for the Steering Committee, made up of representatives of numerous residential and business organizations, to discuss proposed changes to the town’s code.

After three years and six extensions, three of which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the moratorium was scheduled to end on Sept. 14, but was extended to further prepare code changes to be brought before the Town Board.

The new code calls for parking requirements to increase from one parking stall per dwelling unit to two parking stalls; the allowable amount of impervious surfaces has been decreased by 10 percent, in an effort to improve stormwater management and flood mitigation; density has been capped at 15 units per acre for all types of residential housing; and 40 percent of all units in a residential structure is for seniors and the remaining 60 percent of the units are unrestricted, among other things.

At least 80 percent of dwelling units must be one-bedroom or studios, a change that Dalimonte attributed to “an effort to prevent excess or new school enrollments in our crowded school district.”

Building height will be a maximum of 30 feet to still allow two-story buildings, but now the area of the second floor is reduced to 50 percent of the second floor, which Dalimonte said was “an effort to help preserve views of the bay.”

Lot coverage has been reduced to 60 percent of lot size in what the councilwoman said was “an effort to preserve view corridors and open space.”

Front yard setbacks will be required for buildings taller than 20 feet, and a rear yard of 20 feet would now be required from the property line.

During public comment, resident Lowell Peterson referred to the waterfront as “the treasure of the town,” and said that he felt Dalimonte had listened to the public.

“Getting this zoning right will affect that treasure for generations to come,” Peterson said. “You have one opportunity to vote on a rezoning. But when the development starts, those developments will be there, essentially forever. As a resident in the neighborhood. I know all of us would prefer developments that would engage and invite people to use the waterfront, it’s not clear that a residential structure would do that.”

On the developers’ end, Mitch Schwartz said that he didn’t think the code was ready, adding he had assisted with a code put up for a vote two years ago, which he said fell away at the last minute “when a lot of voices started complaining.”

“I am urging that you guys do not vote for this proposal because I don’t think the developers will be able to economically develop properties,” Schwartz said. “And I see, I see no indication that there have been any studies with this zoning that they will be able to do. So I urge you to turn this down.”

George Autz of the Port Washington Waterfront Association spoke in favor of the code.

“This code, I think, clearly will allow the element along the waterfront, maybe not quite as lucrative as some of the property owners would like,” Autz said. “However, certainly, there is enough and it will allow them to be profitable. will also I think it will balance the development with the concerns of local community as well as the greatest Port Washington area.”

Just prior to a unanimous vote from the Town Board, Dalimonte thanked those involved.

“I’d like to thank the town board for listening. And this has been a long
process,” Dalimonte said. “And I truly feel that I am putting up a code that is the best for the community.”

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