Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney leads a panel on...

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney leads a panel on revising the town code. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney has convened a panel of planners, builders, civic leaders and others to consider revising the town zoning code to spur development and streamline the permitting process.

Panelists will conduct the first top-to-bottom review of the code in more than 60 years, King Sweeney said, and recommend revisions, including measures to promote mixed-use development and new housing construction near mass transit in some of Hempstead's flagging downtowns.

"We need to figure out what incentives that we can give to encourage developers to support local residents in recreating downtowns," King Sweeney said. "It's clear that there's a real need to review and possibly update [the code] where needed."

The project follows downtown revitalization efforts in Farmingdale, Patchogue and elsewhere on Long Island that have garnered praise for bringing new life and business to the areas.

At the panel's inaugural meeting on June 10, Lou Carnovale, a building plan examiner in Hempstead’s building department, said the last major change to the town code came in 1957, when it was revised to accommodate cars.

"The parking is really what controls everything," he said of the land use regulations put in place then.

Parking dominated discussion at the meeting, with some saying Hempstead needs more, while others said it should not be a focus of revitalization efforts.

"If we want to have this downtown, then we have to de-emphasize parking," said Darien Ward, president of the Baldwin Civic Association.

Instead, some panelists recommended promoting alternative forms of transportation, including trolleys and scooters. Existing mass transit options, such as the Long Island Rail Road, did not garner praise.

“We can’t depend on the Long Island Rail Road,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has an office in Farmingdale.

Whether residents would use transportation alternatives is unclear, panelists said.

“Everybody wants to drive,” said Eileen Casazza of the Bellmore Preservation Group. “You can’t retrain everybody who lives in the town.”

Panelists acknowledged, however, that attitudes about cars are changing.

“That’s the habits we have,” Ward said of driving. “That may not be the habits young people have. So we have to be more mindful of what their desires are.”

Not doing so could be dire for the region’s future, said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who said Long Island lags behind northern New Jersey in new housing construction. Without promoting development, she said, “we will wither, the young people will leave, the empty-nesters will continue to leave, and the rest of us will be left with the tax burden.”

No single solution will be right for every community, panelists agreed, and any changes need resident support.

King Sweeney said she hopes any major code revisions would be adopted within a year, with smaller changes implemented along the way. Significant code changes would be subject to public hearings, where residents can weigh in on the proposals, she said.

Zoning code milestones

1930: Hempstead Town’s building zone ordinance established

1957: First comprehensive code revisions to accommodate cars

Since then: Only spot zoning changes and overlay districts

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