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North Hempstead allows New Cassel homeowners to seek permission for some changes to homes

The Town of North Hempstead has made it easier for residents of New Cassel to add bathrooms, game-rooms, and outside stairwells to their basements, after homeowners complained the rules -- designed to discourage illegal housing -- were unfair.

The laws banned those additions to homes in a section of the hamlet of 14,000, called the New Cassel Urban Renewal District, which was formed in 2006. The town board, which proposed eliminating those restrictions in January 2014, struck a compromise Tuesday night by approving new laws requiring homeowners to seek exceptions from the town's board of zoning and appeals.

Many in the community and local Westbury school district in 2014 had feared that removing the restrictions would exacerbate the area's growing illegal housing problem.

The town suspended its hearings on the law in April 2014 and formed a committee to study the issue.

Councilwoman Viviana Russell called the plan "a balance between those that were in favor of rescinding it all together and providing some relief for the homeowner who wants to do the right thing."

Kenneth Little, of New Cassel and a member of the Housing Committee formed by the town, said the law benefits "homeowners like myself who are not looking to violate the law."

Officials from the town and Westbury Village announced a partnership earlier this year to more strictly enforce housing codes and share information between the municipalities.

The town board also passed new fines for those violating housing codes. The first fine has a $2,500 to $10,000 range; the second violation ranges from $10,000 to $20,000; while the third is between $20,000 and $30,000.

A homeowner, to seek an exception, must pay a $50 application fee to the building department.

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