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Housing

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Brookhaven Town wants to limit the number of cars allowed per house. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Long Island is infamous for its numerous layers of government, and sometimes those layers try to legislate too much of our lives.

An underlying misconception about what truly affects “quality of life” is forcing our elected officials to pitch laws that are more knee-jerk reactions and overregulation than appropriate responses. We are seeing it in several North Shore communities, like in Brookhaven Town this week.

As part of the town’s fight against overcrowded and illegal rental houses — many of them inhabited by students in the neighborhoods around Stony Brook University — officials want to limit the number of allowed vehicles per bedroom in a house, to help them track the number of people living in a home.

But elected leaders are reacting based upon unrealistic expectations of what “quality of life” should mean to the average Long Islander.

Telling a homeowner how many vehicles they can have, based on the number of bedrooms in a home, is drawing a dangerous line in the sand. What would that do to the basic Brookhaven nuclear family with four older kids, sharing two bedrooms? What would that do to the average car collector? Let’s also not forget about a different — but relevant — issue on Long Island: It’s difficult to even get around out here without a vehicle because of shoddy public transportation. And now we are going to limit the number of cars a family home can possess?

There are already provisions in place to penalize irresponsible neighbors who make too much noise, don’t properly dispose of trash or park on lawns — true quality of life issues. Cracking down on vehicle ownership is beyond the pale, especially if everyone is parked legally. If we cannot use existing provisions to track or police rentals, perhaps they are not enough of a nuisance for us to get involved.

Neighborhoods change. People build. People leave. New people with new personalities come in. These things happen, and it isn’t the job of our county or town officials to make regulations in an attempt to control that.

Bill would limit cars allowed per bedroom

Supervisor Ed Romaine listens to resident concerns at the town meeting. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s a battle between the town and landlords as officials and concerned homeowners keep trying to combat illegal housing.

A proposed Brookhaven Town law aims to prevent overcrowding in rental homes by limiting the number of allowed tenants to four unrelated people — half as many as currently permitted — and restricting the number of permitted vehicles at a rental house to one car per legal bedroom plus one additional car. At a four-bedroom rental house, that translates to five allowed vehicles.

The proposal is the most recent in a string of initiatives to prevent illegal house rentals, including a measure that outlawed paving over front yards to make additional space to park cars.

“That’s how bad it was,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during last week’s Brookhaven Town Board meeting.

The housing issue came to the forefront a few years ago with the help of Bruce Sander, the president of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners. In Three Village and neighboring areas like Port Jefferson and Middle Country, residents have spoken against illegal and often overcrowded rental homes that are filled with Stony Brook University students, citing quality of life issues such as noise and overflowing trash.

Romaine said the rules detailed in the proposed law would make it easier for the town to identify rental homes that house more people than legally allowed.

“There are a number of people who have taken over foreclosed houses for sale with four bedrooms,” Romaine said. “They’ve carved it up and put around eight to 10 students in them.”

Sander said students aren’t the issue — landlords are.

“The law department and town investigators are on top of this all the time because the landlord never obeys the laws,” Sander said in an interview, referring to landlords who rent houses to more tenants than legally allowed. “It’s just the nature of the beast; it’s just what they do.”

Sander helped found Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners around three years ago, after he moved to Stony Brook and identified two illegal boarding houses across the street from him. As the boarding houses became disruptive, residents in the area became concerned.

“I saw the value of my house and the value of my property just go down the tank.”

Tracking the number of people living in one rental home has been difficult for the town, but officials hope counting cars will make the process easier. The town’s overall goal is to provide legal housing for students without disrupting their neighbors.

“Stony Brook is a middle to upper-middle income,” Romaine said. “People moving in with their kids expect a certain quality of life.”

One member of the concerned homeowners group said at the town board meeting that he would like the town to focus on property upkeep as well.

“We’d like [the homes] to stay at a level of cleanliness and order that the community has around [the home],” the man said.

While rental housing and landlord issues are not as bad as they once were, Sander said there is more to be done.

“We still have a lot of work to do; these houses are in disrepair,” Sander said during the board meeting. “Some of these landlords just believe that they’re immune and that our group is going to go away. Well no, we’re growing. We have 1,400 to 1,500 homeowners that are standing strong against these illegal houses.”

The public hearing on the latest proposed law is set for Thursday, Oct. 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall in Farmingville.

The Overbay apartments are planned for the former Islander Boat Center on West Broadway, above. File photo

The developer of a controversial apartment complex planned for Port Jefferson’s West Broadway may get financial assistance to help build it.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency announced last week that it had accepted an application for consideration from Hauppauge-based Overbay LLC, which has approval from the Port Jefferson Village Planning Board to construct two 35-foot buildings containing 52 rental apartments.

Overbay is owned by North Shore developer Jim Tsunis.

Some residents have spoken against the project, slated for the corner of Brook Road at the former Islander Boat Center property, with concerns about increased traffic and density. Part of their resistance is linked to the fact that another apartment complex called the Residences at Port Jefferson — a 112-unit building — is due to go up next door at the corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, in the place of the former Heritage Inn. TRITEC Real Estate Company in East Setauket is leading that development.

“We don’t want to be urbanized,” resident Phil Griffith said at a public hearing earlier this year. “It is just too much.”

In both projects, neither of which required variances for approval, parking will be contained underneath the apartments and the housing will replace longtime community eyesores at village’s western entry point.

According to the IDA, which aims to boost the economy within Brookhaven Town by assisting businesses in locating or expanding in the area, it will consider Overbay’s application for financial assistance over the coming few months and will hold a public hearing on the matter.

“We’re pleased to consider this application for this project, which will grow the much-needed supply of rental housing near to Stony Brook University and Port Jefferson’s Mather and St. Charles hospitals,” IDA Chairman Fred Braun said in a press release.

The three-story apartment buildings are expected to create two permanent jobs and 150 construction jobs over a two-year period, the IDA said. Rents could range from $1,800 to $2,200.

There is no commercial component to the Overbay project, though there had been commercial space included in previous proposals for the site.

The IDA has already assisted another apartment project in the area this year, the Rail Realty complex along Texaco Avenue in upper Port. That project, dubbed the Hills at Port Jefferson, will include two three-story buildings for a total of 74 rentals — a mixture of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments — and underground parking.

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.

Project is one of three slated for Huntington Station

A rendering of what the affordable veteran housing project on Depot Road and E9th Street would look like. A zone change is required to move the plan forward. Photo from Fred DeSanti

The Huntington Town Board will consider changing the zoning on its own motion of a Huntington Station property next month to make way for a veterans affordable housing project.

The proposal, which would be built on a quarter-acre vacant lot on the corner of Depot Road and East 9th Street, entails creating four, one-bedroom affordable units in a two-story building with a lobby, according to property owner Fred DeSanti. The town board is considering changing the zoning from C-6 Huntington Station Overlay District to C-1 Office Residence District to accommodate the project.

DeSanti said in thinking up ways to develop the property that he and his brother-in-law Douglas Quimby own both became interested in helping veterans while also doing their part to revitalize Huntington Station.

“We just thought this was a way we could do something good for the community [and] we could provide much needed housing for the veterans,” he said.

The town and the community, he said, received the project warmly. Joan Cergol, the executive director of the town’s Economic Development Corporation, said DeSanti approached her with the idea in part to contribute to the area’s face-lift while also giving veterans an affordable place to live. She said the town is supportive of the project.

DeSanti’s project isn’t the only veterans housing project slated for the area. VetsBuild is in the process of building the country’s first ever Department of Energy zero-energy home built by vets and for vets on Depot Road near East 5th Street, a project that is in final reviews at Huntington Town. Also, the town is working on pushing forward Columbia Terrace, a 14-unit affordable housing condo complex for veterans to be located at Railroad Street and Lowndes Avenue.

“There seems to be an organic appearance of veteran-based housing in Huntington Station, which is a welcome type of a development as we are pursing new development in the downtown area,” Cergol said.

Once it is completed, the VetsBuild project — a green project — will create and generate as much energy as it uses, according to Rick Wertheim, the senior vice president of green initiatives and housing at United Way of Long Island. It will accommodate five veterans with special needs.

Asked why build in Huntington Station, Wertheim said they liked that the area’s slated for redevelopment. The town board has been working with master developer Renaissance Downtowns to redevelop the area.

Building in such an area “gives the folks who live there the opportunity to walk to a really dynamic living experience as opposed to being densely nested in a residential area where they’re kind of cut off from everything,” Wertheim said.

Cergol said she believes the word is getting out about change in Huntington Station.

“I think that there’s a general sense of optimism and enthusiasm to be a part of positive change in Huntington Station,” she said. “Whether you are a government, a private property owner or a nonprofit … everybody is looking through the same kind of prism now.”

Eight affordable rental housing parcels in the works

Veterans roll up a flag at a press conference on the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative. The county Legislature will vote on a measure to transfer properties to create affordabe housing for homeless veterans at its Sept. 9 meeting. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County has gained some footing in the war against veteran homelessness.

Last week, officials announced a proposal to transfer eight tax-defaulted properties over to nonprofit groups that will be charged with developing them into rental housing for homeless veterans or those who are at risk of becoming homeless. The units will be overseen and managed by the non-profit organizations.

The move is part of the Housing our Homeless Heroes legislative initiative, a package of four bills sponsored by Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Officials say there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

In a phone interview on Monday, Stern said the county Legislature would vote on the transfer of the properties at its Sept. 9 meeting. He said he expects the resolution, which he is co-sponsoring with County Executive Steve Bellone (D), to gain unanimous support.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said in addition to housing resources, the veterans will receive additional services through these nonprofits, such as job training and placement; primary and mental health care; disability management and health care coordination; family counseling; financial training and substance abuse services.

“The Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative is the housing part of providing assistance to our veterans and families,” Stern said. “But it can never be just about four walls and a roof.”

Once transferred, the nonprofits would foot the construction bill through roughly $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

The Legislature approved the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative last year, and Bellone signed the legislation into law just days before Christmas. The four laws tackle the issue of veteran homelessness from different angles — one establishes a partnership between agencies and community advocates that serve veterans and their families and helps them set up an informational web portal on the county’s website to direct them to services available across all levels of government and within the nonprofit sector. Another maximizes access to available housing for veterans. The third amended the county’s human rights law by adding veterans as a group of individuals protected against discrimination in housing and employment opportunities. The last bill will require a veteran services officer to work at the county’s Department of Social Services on a regular basis. The officers must be veterans as well, in order to establish a peer-to-peer relationship between those they are helping.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” Michael Stoltz, chief executive officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

Residents turn out for and against a plan to build a 69-unit assisted living facility in Huntington. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Plans to build a 69-unit assisted living facility in a residential, wooded Huntington neighborhood were largely met with heavy censure by neighboring residents at a town board public hearing on Tuesday night.

The room was filled to the max with individuals holding up signs for and against the proposal, and jeering and applause often punctuated speakers’ statements. Out of the nearly 35 individuals who spoke, most residents opposed Massachusetts-based Benchmark Senior Living’s plans to build the facility at the corner of East Main Street and Washington Drive, calling the proposal too dense for the area and criticizing the traffic, noise and sewage treatment aspects of the project. The residents called on the town board to reject the company’s proposal to rezone the six-acre land, which has both C-3 Special Business and R-10 Residential zoning, to R-HS Residential Health Services District, a designation that would make way for the facility.

The project has gone through several versions. The proposed number of units has been brought down from 87 to 69 units, and the proposed on-site sewage treatment plant has been moved to the northwest corner of the lot, adjacent to commercial property. A 40-foot-wide natural buffer along Old Northport Road will be built, and the gross floor area would be slightly reduced from 70,567 square feet to 66,995.

Representatives for the developer said at the meeting that the project would meet the needs of a growing senior population in Suffolk County and especially in Huntington Town. But many residents expressed frustration over the zone change request, urging the board to keep the zoning of the current land intact.

Some support Benchmark Senior Living’s request to rezone property to make way for a 69-unit assisted living facility in Huntington. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Some support Benchmark Senior Living’s request to rezone property to make way for a 69-unit assisted living facility in Huntington. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Shoehorning a large-scale facility into this spot that would house 100 to 150 people including the staff is so far from the original zoning plan that it renders zoning laws absurd,” Jane Carter, a Cobb Court resident said. “Why do we have zoning laws in the first place? They’re there to protect us.”

Meanwhile, the plan got some support by fewer than a handful of residents, including the construction industry. The developer’s team of representatives argued the proposal is a good use for the site and for the town. John Dragat, senior vice president of development at Benchmark, said the plan destroys fewer trees than previous plans for the site, which included eight homes and an office building. Benchmark’s proposal covers less of the lot and, square-footage wise, isn’t much greater than the plan for the homes, Dragat added.

“In fact, we believe it’s a very responsible proposal,” he said. “It’s respectful of the surrounding community.”

Still, residents were not sold. Astrid Ludwicki, an Old Northport Road resident, said the project was too dense and called it a “monstrosity.”

“This building is too large,” she said. “It’s for Benchmark’s profits, clear and simple.”

Petitions opposing the project have been submitted to the town. Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia (R) said if they’re valid, it could mean the board would need a supermajority vote — four out of five — to approve the zone change, versus a simple majority of three.

After the meeting, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in an interview that the town’s planning staff would review the proposal. Asked for his sense of how the community feels about the project, he said “they’re against it.” The supervisor also said he agreed with the applicant’s claim that this type of facility is needed.

“I think there is a need,” he said. “I think everybody will say there’s a need. Now depending on if it’s in the right spot, we have to analyze that.”

The former Islander Boat Center could soon become 52 apartments. File photo by Erika Karp

A second apartment complex on West Broadway got the green light recently, when the Port Jefferson Planning Board gave conditional approval to 52 units at the former Islander Boat Center property.

The 20 conditions the board put on Overbay LLC’s project at its May 14 meeting include items to control drainage at the site off of Brook Road, which is not far above the water table, Planning Board member Barbara Sabatino said in a phone interview. The applicant must also give the village “a final eyeball” on the structures’ elevation and colors before it can be granted building permits.

Overbay’s two buildings would go up next door to a planned 112-unit apartment building — the Residences at Port Jefferson — at West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, the site of the decrepit former Heritage Inn. The board approved that project, from applicant TRITEC Real Estate Company, at a meeting last month, according to minutes from April 16.

The Residences at Port Jefferson are to be built on a property roughly double the size of Overbay’s.

Both sites at the western entrance to Port Jefferson Village would have parking underneath the apartments and would replace longtime community eyesores. Neither required variances for approval.

The two projects have another thing in common: Both have faced opposition from some village residents who say they are concerned about increased density and traffic.

“We don’t want to be urbanized,” Phil Griffith said at a public hearing in March. “It is just too much. Too, too much.”

With the Overbay apartments, cars would access the site from Brook Road, while cars visiting the Residences at Port Jefferson would enter through a driveway on West Broadway or an entrance on Barnum Avenue.

The proposal the Planning Board approved for the Overbay project does not include commercial space, which had been a component — along with more apartments — in previous proposals for the site.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson. File photo

A new iteration of a proposal to build a senior assisted living facility near a wooded Huntington neighborhood will be the subject of a town board public hearing next month.

The board scheduled the hearing on Tuesday to consider changing the zone on the six-acre property to allow the Massachusetts-based Benchmark Senior Living to proceed with the project, which would be located on the corner of East Main Street and Washington Drive. Benchmark is looking to rezone the property from C-3 Special Business and R-10 Residential to R-HS Residential Health Services District to make way for the facility.

The project has gone through several versions. The proposed number of units has been brought down from 87 to 69 units. Also, the building will be two stories instead of three, and the proposed on-site sewage treatment plant has been moved to the northwest corner of the lot, adjacent to commercial property.

A 40-foot wide natural buffer along Old Northport Road will be built, and the gross floor area would be slightly reduced from 70,567 square feet to 66,995.

Some residents who live near the property have opposed the plan, citing size, traffic and noise concerns. A group of residents, who call themselves United Homeowners of Huntington, has formed to oppose the plan.

Jane Carter, a resident who belongs to the group, asked the town board at the meeting on Tuesday to keep the zoning on the property in tact. She said the project “hasn’t changed enough.”

William Bonesso, a Uniondale attorney representing Benchmark for the project, also attended the Tuesday meeting. In an interview last year, he spoke of a need for the project.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re living on an island that’s aging,” he said.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) sponsored the resolution to schedule a public hearing. He said in an interview with reporters after the meeting that the public hearing was a chance to evaluate whether the public’s concerns about the project are addressed

“It’s been kicking around,” he said. “They came up with what they believed was a different plan so let’s put it before public hearing, decide whether it should go forward.”

This state Department of Environmental Conservation map hilights special groundwater protection property in yellow, which includes a lot in the center on which a North Shore developer hopes to build.

A Setauket-based civic group is drawing a line in the sand as a North Shore developer looks to build three houses on an environmentally sensitive area.

Brookhaven is home to two of Long Island’s nine special groundwater protection areas, designated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Charles Krohn of Windwood Homes, Inc. has applied for variances to divide his land within one of them — in East Setauket near Franklin Avenue and John Adams Street —  into three separate plots. But Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, argued the town should adhere to existing zoning laws there to protect the area’s aquifer.

The DEC’s special groundwater protection area in question is a large, oddly shaped chunk of land on the North Shore that includes Stony Brook University, St. Georges Golf and Country Club, Ward Melville High School, wooded properties on the southern part of Setauket, pieces of Lake Grove and more.

“[This area] is critical to ensuring the future potability of our underground water supply,” Nuzzo said in a statement read aloud at the April 22 Brookhaven Town Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. “Granting variances to allow for these substandard lots would serve to undermine not only the state environmental conservation law, but also … Brookhaven’s own adopted comprehensive land use plan.”

The civic president said the town granted the area special protection in its 1996 land use plan — the most recently adopted plan to date — because of its environmental significance. In his testimony, Nuzzo asked the town to deny the requested variances solely to protect the environmental standards already in place, adding he was not opposed to development all together.

“If the applicant wishes to develop this property, we recommend they adhere to the town’s existing zoning ordinances,” he said.

Krohn, who lives in East Setauket, purchased the land from the town in September 2014 and said he was looking to build three homes between 3,000 and 3,500 square feet in the same community where Windwood Homes has already been developing for years.

“The houses might, in fact, be smaller than this footprint,” he said at last month’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. “These are not sold right now.”

Diane Moje of D&I Expediting Services in Farmingville represented Krohn at the hearing and said the goal was to make three equal lots for development.

East Setauket resident Thomas Cardno has lived near Franklin Avenue for nearly a decade and said he worries that overdevelopment would create a safety risk for young children, referring to the variance proposals as “jamming three homes on there” as a means to maximize profits at the expense of the families in the area.

The cul-de-sacs in the area are too crammed already, he said. “Just put two homes in there and call it a day, at this point.”

Moje, however, said the town has already granted similar variances for other homes in the surrounding area, making the current proposal nothing out of the ordinary.

“This is not out of character and not something this board hasn’t addressed previously, and granted,” she said.

Christopher Wrede of the Brookhaven Town Planning Department reviewed the proposal and said the variances posed no significant environmental impact. The Board of Zoning Appeals held the public hearing open, to get additional information in the coming months.