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Draft of proposed code changes may end moratorium in Port Washington biz district

Proposed code changes for development along the waterfront

Proposed code changes for development along the waterfront business district in downtown Port Washington would cap building height at 35 feet, or three stories. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

North Hempstead Town has released drafted code to regulate Port Washington’s waterfront business district after a lot of what officials described as “push and pull” to balance residents’ quality-of-life concerns and commercial owners’ rights to develop their properties.

The new draft comes nearly three years after a moratorium was put in place and a year after the town suggested banning residential development altogether in the zone. That proposal suffered a major setback when developers told officials it would make development nearly impossible and some residents faulted the code for not going far enough.

“It’s a balancing act between the concerns of … overdevelopment … and the very real property rights,” said Michael Levine, town commissioner of planning and environmental protection, in a virtual meeting Tuesday night. “This whole thing is about striking that balance.”

The proposed code released last week would cap building height at 35 feet, or three stories, which is 10 feet lower than what’s allowed in the current code.

To control density, multiple-use buildings would have no more than 20 residential units per acre. No more than 20% of the units could have two or more bedrooms, and at least 40% of them would have to be designated for seniors.

Levine said the new proposal came after months of discussion among three key groups: the commercial property owners who are entitled to “reasonable, economic return”; neighboring residents who are concerned about height and density; and area residents who want to preserve public access to the waterfront.

During the two-hour meeting, access to the waterfront came up again and again as some residents raised concerns over losing it to future development.

Michael Scharpf, who lives on Third Avenue, said he and his wife recently moved to Port Washington, partially for the view.

“The waterfront is just breathtaking. … I don’t see why we can’t be a little more aggressive for our quality of life,” he said. “I would propose that an environmental, traffic, quality-of-life impact study by the town for all the taxpayers in this area is done before this rezoning is voted on.”

Mindy Germain, executive director of Residents Forward, said her civic group surveyed 800 residents and found respondents prioritizing walkable routes, public access and unobstructed views, pushing the group to advocate for a walkable promenade throughout the zone.

“We believe our waterfront is our biggest asset,” Germain said. “It’s what makes Port Washington Port Washington. We saw this moratorium as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to envision what the community wanted Manhasset Bay to be.”

In response to another resident’s question about a public walkway, Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte told the 70 people participating in the Zoom meeting that the steering committee had gone over the issue multiple times.

“We all want it,” Dalimonte said. “The problem is we cannot take private property and make it public.”

Approximately half of the 11-acre district, which runs along Main Street from Sunset Park to Dolphin Green, is privately owned, according to the town.

A second public meeting on Zoom is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 18.

WHAT’S IN THE PROPOSED CODE

Building height would be capped at 35 feet, or three stories.

  • A multiple-use building could have up to 20 residential units per acre.
  • No more than 20% of the units could have two or more bedrooms.
  • Maximum density allowed for a hotel or boatel would be 35 rooms per acre.
  • No building could be constructed with fewer than two side yards.

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