“Through zoning local communities are able to hold enormous power...

“Through zoning local communities are able to hold enormous power to block growth,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday.  Credit: Darren McGee- Office of Governor Kathy Hochul/Darren McGee

This story was reported by John Asbury, Denise Bonilla, Jonathan LaMantia, Brianne Ledda, Jean-Paul Salamanca and Joe Werkmeister. It was written by LaMantia.

Long Island elected officials expressed concerns Wednesday over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to add 800,000 housing units statewide in the next decade, in part by setting local targets and fast-tracking projects in areas that don’t meet them in the next three years.

The approach allows local governments to approve the types of housing they believe meet local needs but carries the prospect the state will step in if too few projects are approved.

Several town supervisors told Newsday they were still reviewing the proposal but worried about how it could interfere with local control over zoning rules. The proposal was part of Hochul’s State of the State speech Tuesday, and it will be several weeks before she releases more detail in  her proposed budget. The proposal is subject to negotiation with the State Legislature.

The goal is to address a shortage of housing, particularly in the suburbs around New York City, where Hochul said job creation has outpaced building and prevented people from finding homes.

“Through zoning local communities are able to hold enormous power to block growth,” Hochul said Tuesday in her speech. “Between full-on bans of multifamily homes, and onerous zoning and approvals processes, they make it difficult, almost impossible, to build homes.”

Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth said he expects the town "will exceed the governor’s goals, but it will be done without the governor’s heavy-handed involvement."

Huntington was highlighted by the governor's office this week as lagging behind other areas in housing production. Smyth questioned Hochul's suggestion that Huntington had added less than 1,000 housing units  in the past decade, compared to 91,000 units added in Brooklyn.

He said the town is now exploring converting vacant office parks in Melville to include residential units.

“There’s no such thing as development in Huntington, there’s only redevelopment in Huntington," Smyth said. "Whenever something new is built, something is coming down.”

Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said he worried how the governor’s proposal would impact local control and potentially restrict “the will of the people.” He said an increasing population can lead to other concerns from the environment, to parking to schools.

“We know how to manage our communities and we know how to listen to our residents,” he said. “We’re afraid that this policy and this proposal would take all of that away and it’s just not the right way to treat residents. Their voice truly counts.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he supports the plan, which he said "will incentivize local municipalities to work closely with the state to address an issue that is critical to Long Island’s economic future.”

A spokesman for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman did not respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s proposal calls for cities, towns and villages across the state to achieve certain targets. For Long Island, that target is a 3% increase in new homes over three years, which translates into 38,218 new single-family homes, apartments or other types of housing.

By comparison, from 2018 to 2020, the number of new housing units on Long Island increased by 0.56% — far short of the 3% goal set for 2023 to 2025 — and Long Island had the lowest growth rate among 10 New York regions, according to information shared by the governor’s office. By that measure, just 4% of Long Island localities would have met the proposed standard if it had been in place during that time.

If after three years a town or village falls short, a developer proposing new housing that had been rejected by a local zoning board could appeal to the state. Then, a proposed State Housing Approval Board would approve any project unless local officials demonstrate a health or safety reason to support its denial.

Dan Lloyd, president of the North Amityville-based nonprofit Minority Millennials and a proponent of affordable housing, said he appreciated that the plan creates accountability but allows local governments flexibility. 

“This is a last chance for local municipalities to show in good faith they will produce more housing,” Lloyd said.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine said he is reserving judgment until more details are released by the governor’s office. While he acknowledged the need for housing, he said the state should provide help funding infrastructure projects, such as sewer systems and roads, that would support the addition of housing.

“If the state is trying to control local zoning, it’s not going to work,” he said. “What is going to work is a dialogue between the towns and the villages that control zoning and the governor working with them toward a solution.”

Hochul proposed a $250 million infrastructure fund and $20 million for planning as municipalities look to meet their housing goals.

Romaine noted that building a sewer district in the Mastic-Shirley area, which is expected to serve nearly 1,900 homes and 150 businesses, cost about $228 million.

“Sewers are more expensive than people think,” he said.

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said he is reviewing the governor’s housing plan with the town attorney’s office but said it’s “problematic” for “a higher level government to override local zoning.”

He highlighted ongoing development of apartment complexes in Smithtown and acknowledged that there is a need for housing on Long Island. He noted that solutions also need to address accompanying issues like traffic, wastewater disposal and public transportation.

Local governments would have less flexibility in evaluating projects located near rail stations. Hochul said she would require localities to rezone areas within a half a mile of a rail station for residential use unless the area already allows for at least 25 housing units per acre.  

The plan is designed to stimulate building of all types, not just homes that would be reserved for people with middle or lower incomes. Additional weight would be given for certain types of housing, with localities receiving credit for two units for every affordable unit.

Hunter Gross, president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said the proposal was promising but should include affordability requirements.

“The last thing we need is more luxury developments that recent college graduates, seniors on fixed incomes and working people can’t actually afford,” he said.

Hochul is renewing her call for more housing options after her plan last year to authorize accessory apartments across the state and override local zoning rules failed because of bipartisan opposition by suburban lawmakers.

Mike Florio, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the home builders and multifamily developers in the trade group are supportive of Hochul’s vision.

“The key is going to be in the delivery,” he said. "The goal is great. How we get there is going to be the challenge. There has to be buy-in from local officials and stakeholders here. Without that, it will die a quick death just like it did last year."

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said it’ll take time to analyze the governor’s proposal. He noted it’s a challenge to create affordable housing in one of the highest-priced areas in the country.

“We’re doing our best to create ways for the people we need to sustain our communities to be able to afford to live within them,” he said.

Residents in Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southold approved a referendum in November that adds 0.5% tax on most real estate transfers to create a fund in each town toward affordable housing initiatives.

Schneiderman said the housing fund will provide “significant funding” but there are other factors that make it “complex” to add additional housing, from open space goals to protecting drinking water supplies.

In Riverhead, Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who had gotten off a call with other Long Island leaders and state officials regarding Hochul's announcement, said the town is open to discussion on the subject. Aguiar mentioned that the town had a "substantial amount" of affordable housing, and if the town needs to work to support local young professionals and young homeowners through more affordable housing options, then "we would certainly be working with the governor's office in that regard."

Aguiar pointed out that Riverhead already has an overlay district around its LIRR station in the areas surrounding Osborne Avenue and Railroad Street as part of their transit-oriented development plan. That plan calls for building 243 apartment units, 2,340 square feet of retail space and a four- to five-story parking garage with 420 to 520 spaces.

While supportive of Hochul's approach, Aguiar said the town will need the assistance of the governor to get increased train service in Riverhead, which, she said, would be "critical" in making the housing initiatives work.

In Southold, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said while the town wouldn't have problems meeting some of the goals outlined by Hochul's office, the goal of a 3% increase in housing on Long Island was "a little ambiguous."

 "Three percent of what? Is that on a per-town basis? Is that on existing housing? If she's saying housing is critically low on Long Island, three percent over three years doesn't sound like it's taking you anywhere," Russell said. 

  Regarding Hochul's plan to rezone the area around LIRR stations, Russell said that since Southold already has increased density in areas where the town's three train stations in Mattituck, Southold and Greenport are, the only way to make a more meaningful solution for housing was for Hochul to order the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to give Southold more train service.

"Increase our train service and we'll increase density accordingly," Russell said.

 Ryan Bonner, spokesman for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, said he couldn't comment on specifics, but stated Schaffer “believes decisions on local zoning should remain firmly in the hands of local officials who know their communities best.” Town officials in Islip said they were still reviewing Hochul's plan. 

Long Island elected officials expressed concerns Wednesday over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to add 800,000 housing units statewide in the next decade, in part by setting local targets and fast-tracking projects in areas that don’t meet them in the next three years.

The approach allows local governments to approve the types of housing they believe meet local needs but carries the prospect the state will step in if too few projects are approved.

Several town supervisors told Newsday they were still reviewing the proposal but worried about how it could interfere with local control over zoning rules. The proposal was part of Hochul’s State of the State speech Tuesday, and it will be several weeks before she releases more detail in  her proposed budget. The proposal is subject to negotiation with the State Legislature.

The goal is to address a shortage of housing, particularly in the suburbs around New York City, where Hochul said job creation has outpaced building and prevented people from finding homes.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Long Island town officials are concerned Gov. Kathy Hochul's plan to add 800,000 housing units statewide in the next decade would encroach upon their ability to set local zoning rules. 
  • The plan would require towns and villages to increase housing units by 3% over three years.
  • Some officials said the governor should provide adequate funding for improvements to roads and sewers to support new housing.

“Through zoning local communities are able to hold enormous power to block growth,” Hochul said Tuesday in her speech. “Between full-on bans of multifamily homes, and onerous zoning and approvals processes, they make it difficult, almost impossible, to build homes.”

Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth said he expects the town "will exceed the governor’s goals, but it will be done without the governor’s heavy-handed involvement."

Huntington “will exceed the governor's goals, but it will be done...

Huntington “will exceed the governor's goals, but it will be done without the governor’s heavy-handed involvement," said Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth. Credit: James Carbone

Huntington was highlighted by the governor's office this week as lagging behind other areas in housing production. Smyth questioned Hochul's suggestion that Huntington had added less than 1,000 housing units  in the past decade, compared to 91,000 units added in Brooklyn.

He said the town is now exploring converting vacant office parks in Melville to include residential units.

“There’s no such thing as development in Huntington, there’s only redevelopment in Huntington," Smyth said. "Whenever something new is built, something is coming down.”

Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said he worried how the governor’s proposal would impact local control and potentially restrict “the will of the people.” He said an increasing population can lead to other concerns from the environment, to parking to schools.

“We know how to manage our communities and we know how to listen to our residents,” he said. “We’re afraid that this policy and this proposal would take all of that away and it’s just not the right way to treat residents. Their voice truly counts.”

“We know how to manage our communities and we know...

“We know how to manage our communities and we know how to listen to our residents,” Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he supports the plan, which he said "will incentivize local municipalities to work closely with the state to address an issue that is critical to Long Island’s economic future.”

A spokesman for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman did not respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s proposal calls for cities, towns and villages across the state to achieve certain targets. For Long Island, that target is a 3% increase in new homes over three years, which translates into 38,218 new single-family homes, apartments or other types of housing.

By comparison, from 2018 to 2020, the number of new housing units on Long Island increased by 0.56% — far short of the 3% goal set for 2023 to 2025 — and Long Island had the lowest growth rate among 10 New York regions, according to information shared by the governor’s office. By that measure, just 4% of Long Island localities would have met the proposed standard if it had been in place during that time.

If after three years a town or village falls short, a developer proposing new housing that had been rejected by a local zoning board could appeal to the state. Then, a proposed State Housing Approval Board would approve any project unless local officials demonstrate a health or safety reason to support its denial.

Dan Lloyd, president of the North Amityville-based nonprofit Minority Millennials and a proponent of affordable housing, said he appreciated that the plan creates accountability but allows local governments flexibility. 

“This is a last chance for local municipalities to show in good faith they will produce more housing,” Lloyd said.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine said he is reserving judgment until more details are released by the governor’s office. While he acknowledged the need for housing, he said the state should provide help funding infrastructure projects, such as sewer systems and roads, that would support the addition of housing.

Infrastructure needs

“If the state is trying to control local zoning, it’s not going to work,” he said. “What is going to work is a dialogue between the towns and the villages that control zoning and the governor working with them toward a solution.”

Hochul proposed a $250 million infrastructure fund and $20 million for planning as municipalities look to meet their housing goals.

Romaine noted that building a sewer district in the Mastic-Shirley area, which is expected to serve nearly 1,900 homes and 150 businesses, cost about $228 million.

“Sewers are more expensive than people think,” he said.

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said he is reviewing the governor’s housing plan with the town attorney’s office but said it’s “problematic” for “a higher level government to override local zoning.”

He highlighted ongoing development of apartment complexes in Smithtown and acknowledged that there is a need for housing on Long Island. He noted that solutions also need to address accompanying issues like traffic, wastewater disposal and public transportation.

Local governments would have less flexibility in evaluating projects located near rail stations. Hochul said she would require localities to rezone areas within a half a mile of a rail station for residential use unless the area already allows for at least 25 housing units per acre.  

The plan is designed to stimulate building of all types, not just homes that would be reserved for people with middle or lower incomes. Additional weight would be given for certain types of housing, with localities receiving credit for two units for every affordable unit.

Hunter Gross, president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said the proposal was promising but should include affordability requirements.

“The last thing we need is more luxury developments that recent college graduates, seniors on fixed incomes and working people can’t actually afford,” he said.

Hochul is renewing her call for more housing options after her plan last year to authorize accessory apartments across the state and override local zoning rules failed because of bipartisan opposition by suburban lawmakers.

Mike Florio, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the home builders and multifamily developers in the trade group are supportive of Hochul’s vision.

“The key is going to be in the delivery,” he said. "The goal is great. How we get there is going to be the challenge. There has to be buy-in from local officials and stakeholders here. Without that, it will die a quick death just like it did last year."

Towns weigh in

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said it’ll take time to analyze the governor’s proposal. He noted it’s a challenge to create affordable housing in one of the highest-priced areas in the country.

“We’re doing our best to create ways for the people we need to sustain our communities to be able to afford to live within them,” he said.

Residents in Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southold approved a referendum in November that adds 0.5% tax on most real estate transfers to create a fund in each town toward affordable housing initiatives.

Schneiderman said the housing fund will provide “significant funding” but there are other factors that make it “complex” to add additional housing, from open space goals to protecting drinking water supplies.

In Riverhead, Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who had gotten off a call with other Long Island leaders and state officials regarding Hochul's announcement, said the town is open to discussion on the subject. Aguiar mentioned that the town had a "substantial amount" of affordable housing, and if the town needs to work to support local young professionals and young homeowners through more affordable housing options, then "we would certainly be working with the governor's office in that regard."

Aguiar pointed out that Riverhead already has an overlay district around its LIRR station in the areas surrounding Osborne Avenue and Railroad Street as part of their transit-oriented development plan. That plan calls for building 243 apartment units, 2,340 square feet of retail space and a four- to five-story parking garage with 420 to 520 spaces.

While supportive of Hochul's approach, Aguiar said the town will need the assistance of the governor to get increased train service in Riverhead, which, she said, would be "critical" in making the housing initiatives work.

In Southold, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said while the town wouldn't have problems meeting some of the goals outlined by Hochul's office, the goal of a 3% increase in housing on Long Island was "a little ambiguous."

 "Three percent of what? Is that on a per-town basis? Is that on existing housing? If she's saying housing is critically low on Long Island, three percent over three years doesn't sound like it's taking you anywhere," Russell said. 

  Regarding Hochul's plan to rezone the area around LIRR stations, Russell said that since Southold already has increased density in areas where the town's three train stations in Mattituck, Southold and Greenport are, the only way to make a more meaningful solution for housing was for Hochul to order the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to give Southold more train service.

"Increase our train service and we'll increase density accordingly," Russell said.

 Ryan Bonner, spokesman for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, said he couldn't comment on specifics, but stated Schaffer “believes decisions on local zoning should remain firmly in the hands of local officials who know their communities best.” Town officials in Islip said they were still reviewing Hochul's plan. 

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