The Village of Massapequa Park has broadened its definition of a family, pending approval by Nassau County.
The definition of “family” is found in the town’s zoning code, which restricts housing in residential districts to single-family homes and to a specific meaning of the word.
“We all throughout our history think of a family as a group of people related by blood,” said Village Attorney Kevin M. Walsh at the July 25 hearing that preceded the village trustees’ adoption of new definitions.
Walsh, of Hauppauge-based Walsh Markus McDougal & DeBellis, added, “That no longer is an acceptable standard, and if you get into a court case regarding the definition of family, the court will probably throw your definition out and employ probably a liberal standard of what family is.”
The village’s current definition was adopted in 1974. It contains two definitions of a family: a group of people who are related, married or adopted and living and cooking together, not including household servants; or two unrelated people who live and cook together as a single housekeeping unit.
Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have struck down laws that were narrowly drawn in ways that excluded nonbiological or nontraditional families.
“Our definition of family needs to be updated based upon a number of court decisions over the years,” Walsh said at the hearing. “The definition of family by anyone’s standard is an evolving definition.”
Now, under the new definition, which must be approved by the Nassau County Planning Commission, Massapequa Park will recognize three types of families for zoning purposes:
- The first includes people living together who are married, related or adopted.
- The second includes up to three unrelated people living together.
- The third is for groups of four or more people living together who meet certain criteria including the appearance and structure of a family, shared cooking facilities, access to all parts of the residence, permanence and stability.
- “You’ve got to adjust to the times,” Village Mayor Jeffrey Pravato said in an interview, adding that the village still wants to maintain its status as a community of single-family homes.
- “You can’t start renting rooms to people and having locked doors and everything; that’s almost like having a boardinghouse,” Pravato said.
- Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said that “many villages and towns are struggling with the effects of change.”
- “These are not my mother’s and father’s suburbs,” Levy said.
- He said the question for villages considering changes to the definition of family is whether they are doing it to be more inclusive, or to be restrictive.
DEFINING MASSAPEQUA PARK
The Village of Massapequa Park is within the Town of Oyster Bay and was incorporated in 1931. It is one of 64 villages in Nassau County. The board has broadened the village’s definition of a family for zoning purposes.