Head of the Harbor is considering a change to its...

Head of the Harbor is considering a change to its village code that would allow for less strict environmental review of some building applications.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Subdivisions, projects requiring building permits and alterations to historic structures are among the applications that would no longer automatically require the most intense level of environmental review under amendments proposed to Head of the Harbor village code. 

Those applications, called Type I actions under state environmental review laws, are presumed to have a "significant adverse impact" on the environment and usually, but not always, require preparation of an environmental impact statement. On complicated projects those documents can run to hundreds of pages, requiring months of expensive work by engineers and planning professionals. 

“Nobody wants to skip over a review if it’s required, but we don’t want to do work that doesn’t make sense or push the applicant to do something that doesn't make sense,” Village Mayor Doug Dahlgard said. 

Officials said the changes were intended to bring the village code into compliance with state rules. “It recently came to light, through several applications made to the village, that local regulations enacted back to the '90s are significantly more restrictive than SEQRA requires or allows,” said Phil Butler, a village attorney specializing in land use at the Uniondale-based firm Farrell Fritz, using an acronym for State Environmental Quality Review Act. 

The act classifies actions like large-scale housing developments and zoning changes affecting 25 or more acres, as Type I.

But Head of the Harbor code classified some actions as Type I even when the applications were relatively minor, Butler said. Recent examples include an application to subdivide a 5.9-acre site near the village hall into two code-compliant lots and one, by Avalon Nature Preserve, for a special use permit to run a working farm on the former Perry property off Shep Jones Lane, he said. 

Under amended rules, neither action would be deemed Type I, Butler said. But, he said, the proposed change “doesn’t relax scrutiny. Every board still has to … make a determination of environmental significance” on land use applications, which could trigger an environmental  impact statement. 

Other areas of village code unaffected by the proposed changes still mandate review. For example, code prohibits changes to historic structures or properties within historic districts without a certificate of appropriateness from the architectural review board. 

Village trustees canceled a March 15 hearing on the amendments because one trustee would have been unable to attend, and to give other boards more time to review the legislation, Dahlgard said. The hearing has not been rescheduled, but Dahlgard said it could be held in coming weeks.  

Village planning board chairman Harlan Fischer said his board members were "surprised we weren't notified" earlier about the proposed legislation, but that his board would still review applications and require further environmental review in some cases.

Alexandra Wolfe, executive director of the cultural heritage organization Preservation Long Island, declined to comment. 

One application that will not be affected by the proposed changes is a proposal by a Russian Orthodox monastery to build a church on its North Country Road property. The village requires special-use permits for churches and certain other uses in residential districts. That application, which has roused the ire of neighbors who say it is not in keeping with the historic character of the area, has already been deemed a Type I action, Butler said.


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