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North Hempstead may ease New Cassel code restricting basements

A sign for the hamlet of New Cassel

A sign for the hamlet of New Cassel is pictured along Prospect Avenue in New Cassel on Monday, July 13, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

North Hempstead officials will consider easing housing codes nearly a decade old intended to discourage illegal housing in New Cassel.

The town board last year proposed removing restrictions for basements in a section of the 14,000-resident hamlet. For those basements in what is known as the New Cassel Urban Renewal Overlay District, created in 2006, bathrooms cannot have more than two fixtures and stairwell exits from the basement are banned, as are separate storage rooms wider than 6 feet.

Residents had complained those rules were too strict and prevented them from seeking reasonable additions: extra bathrooms for a small ranch house, or recreation and game rooms. The town board does not plan to remove those restrictions, but a proposed change in the law would allow the zoning board of appeals to approve exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Councilwoman Viviana Russell said in an interview that while there were "concerns about illegal housing," officials must accommodate "the homeowner who wants to do the right thing, live in a home comfortably with the same rights and privileges as everyone else in the town."

Hearings on the proposed changes held last year led to intense community opposition, including concern about overcrowding from residents of neighboring Westbury Village and officials from the Westbury school district. The town board in April 2014 decided to stop the hearings, and a committee of stakeholders was convened to study the issue.

Russell said the new proposal is a "compromise." The town board is to vote Tuesday whether to resume the public hearing at its Aug. 11 meeting.

The overlay district is bounded by Wantagh State Parkway to the east, Brush Hollow Road and Union Avenue to the north, School Street to the west, and Railroad Avenue to the south. The town in recent years has removed restrictions for businesses in the district, including bans on laundromats and video arcades. Liquor stores and pool and billiard halls are still prohibited.

Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the board is considering the issue after officials from the town and Westbury Village reviewed illegal housing procedures. "We're putting in enough safeguards in keeping with maintaining the quality of life in the area," she said.

The town's zoning board of appeals can consider whether the property owner has other violations related to illegal housing or construction, or if the request would bring overcrowding.

Town officials said that if a violation occurs after the zoning board has granted a homeowner's exception, the town could revoke that permission and order the resident to remove any changes.

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