New Cassel's strict housing rules reconsidered

John Casimir stands in front of the home John Casimir stands in front of the home he owns at 164 Urban Avenue in New Cassel. (Dec 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The Town of North Hempstead is considering easing restrictions aimed at discouraging illegal housing in New Cassel, after complaints by homeowners that the rules are too strict.

In 2006, the town formed the New Cassel Urban Renewal Overlay District, in part to prevent illegal basement apartments in the hamlet of 14,000. While accessory apartments (for nonfamily members) are forbidden across town, New Cassel's restrictions go further: They prohibit residents there from having more than two fixtures in basement bathrooms and specifically ban shower or bathtub fixtures.

Basement entrances from an outside stairwell are forbidden as well. Those conditions apply only to New Cassel.

Viviana Russell, the area's councilwoman, said it might be time to remove some of the restrictions. Some homeowners have complained the rules are too punishing, making it difficult to create recreational rooms and install functional bathrooms downstairs.

"I do believe that when it was first instituted, it was very helpful," she said. "It's time for us to look at it again; 90 percent of the homes in the New Cassel area are doing the right thing."

Judi Bosworth, who becomes town supervisor Wednesday, said the issue of the overlay zone "deserves serious re-examination."

"With the town's other revitalization efforts moving forward, it is appropriate to consider whether the overlay district is still needed," she said.

The proposal to ax the residential requirements is to be heard at a Jan. 28 public hearing. Last year, the town eased restrictions in the commercial district, allowing Laundromats.

John Casimir, 47, a middle school teacher from East Meadow who owns several homes in New Cassel, said the requirements have made it difficult for his tenants, and he has wondered if those homes will attract buyers when he's ready to sell them.

"Why would I want to buy another house over there?" Casimir said.

Illegal housing has long been a source of frustration for many Long Island municipalities. In North Hempstead, a plan allowing homeowners to rent rooms to nonfamily members was approved in 2008 but repealed soon afterward, following a volley of public opposition. Supporters of the amendment said it was intended to provide affordable housing to young people and seniors.

Westbury Village has attempted to devise its own plan with input from residents. At community forums this fall, the mayor floated a proposal to ban overnight parking (from 2 to 6 a.m.) on some streets where the village believes illegal housing is prevalent.

Michael Levine, North Hempstead's commissioner of planning, said the town's code enforcement officers can still consult a host of "rebuttable presumptions" if they believe a homeowner is building an accessory apartment.

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