Three years after a construction moratorium was enacted, Port Washington’s waterfront business district has a new code.
The finalized rules came after six moratorium extensions and a lot of "push and pull" in at least two dozen public and committee meetings under two North Hempstead Town councilwomen since 2017.
"I truly feel that I am putting up a code that is the best for the community," Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said before the board voted 7-0 Thursday during a virtual meeting to approve it.
For years, town officials had struggled to come up with a code that balances the competing interests of commercial owners who have the rights to develop their properties and residents who worry about overdevelopment and the public’s reduced access to the waterfront.
For many property owners, the approved code still fails to do that.
During the public hearing, John Dunne, a Mineola-based lawyer who represents the owner of Inspiration Wharf, urged the board to reject the version presented. He called the Dalimonte’s revision "unilateral," a characterization rebutted by a resident who disagreed.
"The proposed code unilaterally revised by Councilwoman Dalimonte in September does not provide a sufficiently reasonable return on investment or incentivize the private owners to redevelop the property to include public amenities that would jointly benefit the owners and the citizens," Dunne said.
Dalimonte, who took office in January after defeating former Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, presented multiple versions of the code.
She released a proposal in July and soon faced strong pushback from residents who repeatedly criticized the draft for not doing enough to protect public access to the waterfront.
An online petition was created by a neighborhood association in August, urging people to contact town officials to preserve the waterfront. It has since gathered more than 1,200 signatures.
By the time the revised draft was released in September, it put a stricter limit on height and density.
Under the latest version, height is limited at 30 feet or two stories, lower than Dalimonte’s July proposal that capped it at 35 feet, or three stories. The number of residential units per acre was reduced from 20 to 15.
Mitch Schwartz, a board member of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce who spoke on behalf of himself only, said the current moment took him back to a time when a plan presented "seemed to have totally excluded the wishes of the developers."
Schwartz was referring to the proposal in which the town suggested in May 2019 banning residential development altogether in the 11-acre district that runs along Main Street from Sunset Park to Dolphin Green. Officials later backed away from it.
"We spent almost two years coming up with a compromise that every constituent, including the residents who live close, agreed everybody gave some, took some," Schwartz said. "Then at the last minute when a lot of voices started complaining, that two years of work just went away."
Of the 14 attendees who spoke before the board’s vote, most expressed support, including resident George Autz.
"This code, I think, clearly will allow for development along the waterfront, maybe not quite as lucrative as some of the property owners would like," Autz said. "However, certainly there’s enough in it to allow them to be profitable."