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North Hempstead boosts building department work, reputation

Town Building Commissioner John Niewender, seen here on

Town Building Commissioner John Niewender, seen here on Nov. 26, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Town of North Hempstead is shifting more money and staff into its building department to better address increased permit applications and improve the department’s public image.

In 2016 the building department handled 6,085 permit applications for both residential and commercial projects. In 2017, that number climbed to 6,540. Building department commissioner John Niewender said the increase stems, in part, from banks awarding more loans for local business expansions.

“We’re seeing an uptick in commercial applications for restaurants, banks, even rehabs of commercial buildings and parking lots,” Niewender said. “There’s a lot of work going on.”

On the residential side, Niewender said snowstorms and power outages have prompted residents to purchase backup generators that attach to their homes. In other parts of town, residents are putting additions on their houses so their adult children can move back home, Niewender said.

And whether it’s a generator or a home extension, the building department has to oversee those projects, he said.

“That creates a lot of work,” he said. “And that’s why the administration has been very, very accommodating to us.”

The annual building department budget has risen from $3.3 million in 2015-16 to $3.7 million for 2018-19.

Last April, for the first time in more than a decade, the town raised its building permit and safety inspection fees.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth called the increase “necessary” and said the extra income would fund the salaries of new employees. Since then, the town has hired Gabriel Garcia as a second deputy commissioner and announced plans to add seven more staffers to the department.

The added staff will give North Hempstead the second largest municipal building department in Nassau County, behind Hempstead Town.

The additional staff also will help eliminate the building department’s reputation for being slow with processing permit applications, a reputation town officials said has existed for years.

Bosworth said town officials have spent the past four years improving that reputation, but the town “can continue to improve the speed of review and applicant experience.”

“I hope that anyone, whether a resident or a commercial contractor, who comes into the building department will find our staff to be helpful and courteous,” Bosworth said.

Council member Angelo Ferrara said another way to shorten wait times is by reviewing all building code regulations and perhaps eliminating some. Town officials plan to audit the building codes this year, town spokeswoman Carole Trottere said.

“I’m looking for a complete look at the regulations to see what we can eliminate,” Ferrara said, adding that the town must improve the building department because that’s “where we have the largest interaction with the public.”

Building departments by the numbers

Staffing in municipal building departments in Nassau County:

  • Town of Hempstead: 107 full time; 22 part time
  • Town of North Hempstead: 49 full time; three part time
  • Town of Oyster Bay: 48 full time; no part time
  • City of Glen Cove: four full time; three part time
  • City of Long Beach: eight full time; four part time

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