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Babylon civic groups asking town to put a stop to more multifamily housing

John Vogt, chairman of the American Venice Civic

John Vogt, chairman of the American Venice Civic Association, outside a multifamily dwelling alongside Montauk Highway in Copiague. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A coalition of nine local civic associations is demanding that Babylon Town places an immediate moratorium on developing any new multifamily housing until the coronavirus pandemic is over.

In a March 3 letter to Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer and Planning Commissioner Rachel Scelfo, the Long Island Civic Alliance said housing needs can be determined after COVID-19, writing that existing multifamily units have for-rent signs displayed and people want to live in homes.

"We want this paid attention to," said John Vogt, chairman of the American Venice Civic Association, who helped draft the letter. "We’re not going away."

The group lists 16 general concerns they say support the idea of a moratorium, including worries that an "inadequate sewer system" remains "the primary polluter of the Great South Bay" due to nitrogen from the septic systems.

Schaffer did not support the idea of a moratorium, adding that property owners can exert their right to develop their properties.

"Somebody proposes to build X, Y and Z and we tell them no, we don’t think that’s going to get a good reaction," Schaffer said. "An applicant still does have the right to move forward, because he or she could bring litigation against the town in order to get an approval. He or she could feel they’re being denied something that others have gotten."

The Long Island Association, a group that advocates for businesses in the region, is lobbying to have a provision added in the proposed state budget by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to allow property owners in Nassau and Suffolk to turn vacant office buildings into apartments. Cuomo’s budget proposal for 2021-22 called for the State Legislature to give property owners in New York City that ability.

The alliance, made up of civics in communities such as Lindenhurst, Copiague and Amity Harbor, also reiterated sentiments expressed by the Coalition of Civic Associations, which has pleaded for the town to create a civic advisory board on proposed projects.

Schaffer said he would discuss with other town officials the possibility of creating an advisory board. He said each application gets looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The nine civic groups wrote in the letter that they want to work with the town to "mitigate the detrimental effect of overdevelopment."

Andrew Meyerowitz, a founder of the Baylawn Avenue Homeowners Alliance in Copiague, supports a moratorium.

"We need to take a step back and look at the future of the hamlet of Copiague as well as the Town of Babylon," Meyerowitz said, "especially with all the uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic."

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