Riverhead leaders plan to eliminate the town's Accessory Apartment Review Board and replace its three appointees with a town employee, saying the program has failed to create affordable housing by letting homeowners rent out units in their homes.
The town board held a public hearing on the plan Tuesday night, and while review board member Christine Curtis asked why the action was being taken, she admitted only a handful of people have applied for such a permit in the past five years.
"I'm not here to fight for my job," she told the town board. "I have a few questions. Why put this in the hands of town employees?"
Supervisor Sean Walter said other towns do not have such a review committee and let town workers issue permits. Councilman John Dunleavy said the town wanted to help residents on fixed incomes make money while creating small apartments, but received only a handful of permit applications since the program was implemented in 2008. "It just wasn't working," he said.
Meanwhile, in the past five years, Riverhead has investigated more than 100 illegal apartments whose owners did not seek permits, Dunleavy said.
Under the town program, accessory apartments must be between 300 and 650 square feet. But the Accessory Apartment Review Board could allow apartments of up to 850 square feet, providing they did not exceed 40 percent of the area of the principal dwelling, and had no more than one bedroom.
That power will now go to a designated town employee assigned the job by the town building and planning administrator, planning director or building inspector. A town code enforcement officer will inspect each apartment when an application is filed and when their permit is renewed.
Walter said the new system should allow a permit to be issued within a month, while the old system took two or three months as town agencies reviewed the application.
The town is accepting written comments on the proposal until next Friday.