Councilwoman pitches new two-family home rules

Councilwoman pitches new two-family home rules

Proposal would add community notice, input

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town residents looking to create two-family homes could face new requirements for approval, if a proposed law gets the green light.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) is behind a new measure that would change the process for residents to create two-family homes in the R-5 Residence District. Currently, residents are permitted as-of-right to create or convert properties into owner-occupied two-family homes in R-5 without going through any planning or zoning board review. This legislation would mandate owners apply to obtain a special-use permit from the Huntington Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which would review the application on a number of criteria and would also consider community input.

Those criteria include aesthetics, like ensuring the house looks like a single-family home of no more than two stories, and restricting features like exposed cellars, large attics, tall roofs, multiple driveways and decks and
prominent secondary entrances, according to the proposed law. The owner also has to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the board that he or she would sustain “severe hardship” if the application was denied and that the hardship wasn’t self-created.

The goal of the law, Edwards said, is to afford neighbors the chance to comment on the application. Edwards said she was inspired to create this legislation after speaking with a Greenlawn resident who came home one day surprised to find a two-family home in the community.

“You shouldn’t be able to go to work one day thinking that the house being built next to you is a single family and come home from work and find it’s a two-family house,” Edwards said. “Intuitively, that just doesn’t sound like something we want to do.”

It’s not a great number of properties this would affect, according to Edwards. Since 1992, the annual number of permits issued for two-family homes averages about .8 a year. 

Edwards added that the new requirements would bring creating two-family housing in line with the public notice requirements for residents looking to create
accessory apartments.

“I’m not anti-two-family housing, so don’t get me wrong,” she said. “The only thing that I want this to do is to give the property owners the same right they have today, meet the same requirements, but add the fact that a community in your neighborhood that you are building a two-family house [in] should be able to
receive notification.”

When polled about their thoughts on the legislation, which will be up for a town board public hearing next month, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) offered differing views.

Berland said she doesn’t think property owners should have “an unfettered right” to convert a one-family home into a two-family home.

“I’m more concerned about the community than I am about the property owner in this instance.”

The councilwoman said she supports the legislation but hasn’t made up her mind yet on how she’d vote, and she looks forward to hearing what people say at the public hearing.

Cook said he was researching the law. He expressed concern about the legislation being burdensome. “I just think it’s another way of overregulating.”

Richard Koubek, the president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said his group is vetting the proposal at an Aug. 31 steering committee meeting, but at a glance, it appears the that the code change is “a smart move” to involve community input.

“The coalition supports multiple modes of housing and we understand that when you change from the single family to different housing modes, it creates some real nervousness,” he said. “And so the more that we can dispel and control that nervousness on the part of neighbors, with sound, sensible regulations, the better.”

The public hearing will take place on Sept. 16 at 2 p.m.

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