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Huntington proposal triggers fear over more illegal apartments

Huntington Town Hall in an undated photo.

Huntington Town Hall in an undated photo. Credit: Alexi Knock

A proposal to allow Huntington homeowners to install heat, a water supply, insulation and wallboard in detached garages has some residents worried that such changes could lead to more illegal apartments.

The Huntington Town board held a public hearing Tuesday night to hear from residents about two plans submitted by town board member Gene Cook.

Cook's propositions aim to clarify several items in the town building code, but most people at the meeting spoke about his proposed garage changes. Some were fearful of more illegal apartments, while others argued that people have the right to do what they want on their own property.

"We face a difficulty in the Accessory Apartment Bureau of policing not just what is illegal in the Town of Huntington, but the legal apartments," said Ed Nitkewicz, the bureau's hearing officer. Permits have been issued for 1,514 accessory apartments in the town as of April 3, town documents show.

"To grant people the opportunity to create a separate habitable space in detached garages is going to make our job unbearable," Nitkewicz said. "It is going to be a very difficult, difficult thing for us to police."

Cook said the proposed changes won't create habitable spaces, but allow people to add the extra amenities to their detached garages so they can use that space more, especially in winter, for hobbies like working on cars.

Currently, only residents with an attached garage are permitted to have heat, insulation and wallboard. Cook said the town is "very strict on laws in regards to habitable space." Under Cook's proposal, homeowners would be prohibited from having a septic system and full second floor in a detached garage.

"We can't penalize the good people for some of the bad things that are being done," he said.

He said Thursday that he understands why people are worried about illegal apartments and said it is a concern he will join with his colleagues and others to discuss.

"I believe residents should be able to make full and responsible use of their property, including accessory structures," said Michael Kornfeld, a town resident, at the meeting. "The notion that this would be habitable space . . . I believe to be a red herring without merit."

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