Port Washington residents urged the North Hempstead Town Board to postpone a vote on zoning code changes in Port Washington’s waterfront business district until October.
Last month, the town council introduced changes to the zoning code that proposed eliminating residential use from the district, eliminating below-ground parking, implementing a 10-yard setback on the front and rear of properties and reducing building height from three stories to two.
Over the last 10 days, the board eliminated hotel and boatel use from single-use properties and instead said they can be part of a mixed-use building. A boatel is a waterside hotel equipped to accommodate visitors traveling by boat.
The board also introduced a density cap for hotels in which new ones could build no more than 35 rooms per acre.
The 11.2-acre waterfront business district was organized in June 2009 and runs along the north side of Main Street from Sunset Park to the west side of Main Street after the curve and ends just before Dolphin Green.
At Tuesday’s town meeting, residents and developers discussed their concerns over the proposed changes to the zoning code. Many residents were concerned over the potential for overdevelopment while developers were worried that the zoning code would prohibit all development.
Laurie Rothstein thanked the board for the recent changes to the code, saying they are “in a positive direction,” but had concerns over “too many gray areas that could lead to larger, denser development than any of us intend.”
William Decanza, an attorney representing the owners of La Parma, said his clients purchased the property based on the building rules in place over 18 months ago.
“The rules have been changing ever since,” he said. “You can’t just say … you have to build according to those rules, but we can always change those rules.”
“There is a concern about overdevelopment but with the zoning code, there is going to be no development,” said William Cornachio, a real estate attorney from Rivkin Radler in Uniondale.
Planning Commissioner Michael Levine said the board is trying to avoid making the code so restrictive that a landowner is granted entitlement to relief by the courts.
He said landowners are not entitled to the maximum return from a property, but a reasonable return. The definition of a reasonable return is up to the discretion of the courts.
Many in the crowd urged the Town Board to commission a survey of the area to identify property lines and land that could potentially be owned by the town. Currently, there is no timely survey of the land in the waterfront business district.
Mike Benedetti, a member of the Mitchell Farm Home Association and the Port Washington Waterfront Association, said a survey “is the baseline for this property.”
“We don’t really know who owns what per se,” he said. “Let’s hire a surveyor and get a survey, I don’t know why we are going round and round about that.”
Planning Commissioner Michael Levine said he thinks it’s hard to argue against commissioning a survey to establish who owns what.
“I think there could be a value to establishing definitively who owns what,” he said. “We have been having debates for at least 20 years that I know of.”
North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio said that the board will need to discuss the feasibility of commissioning a survey.
William Gordon, owner of Long Island Boat Rentals, said the landowners at the waterfront should get together “to work to a plan.”
De Giorgio reminded him that the board had already invited property owners to get together.
“There is a lot of property there that I think if we all visioned it could be interesting for all parties,” he said. “And I understand it is not the town’s role, maybe all the property owners have to step up.”
Mitch Schwartz, co-president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks developers didn’t get together previously because the proposed zoning before the latest changes was acceptable.
De Giorgio suggested that the chamber facilitate a conversation with the property owners and report back to the Town Board about the discussion.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth asked Schwartz if the chamber would include other stakeholders such as Residents Forward and representatives from Port’s civic groups.
Schwartz said he would try to get the property owners together for a preliminary meeting first to see if they are willing to sit down.
The board continued the public hearing on the zoning code changes until the board’s July meeting but formally approved extending the waterfront moratorium until October.