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North Hempstead Town board tables talk on changing housing rules some see as discriminatory

North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset on March

North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset on March 5, 2012. Credit: Nicole Bartoline

North Hempstead Town Board members have tabled a proposal to eliminate rules aimed at discouraging illegal housing in New Cassel.

Officials announced alternative plans Tuesday to convene a committee to find a "middle ground" on the issue, which has been discussed at two hearings and affects about 1,500 homes in New Cassel.

Officials voted 7-0 at the second meeting on Tuesday to close the public hearing, which had been continued from January. Town Councilwoman Viviana Russell said town officials plan to launch the new panel -- with area stakeholders -- within a few weeks.

Some homeowners have said the residential overlay district, a special-purpose zone that provides more or less restrictive regulations in an area, is discriminatory.

District rules ban basement bathrooms with more than two fixtures, outside stairway entrances to basements, basement bedrooms or "storage areas" more than six feet in any horizontal dimension, or separate closet space.

Some residents say the rules make it difficult to build basement office and recreation space. But others say they worry that lifting the rules, set in 2006, would enable illegal housing.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said illegal housing is prevalent and "needs to be addressed aggressively."

Russell said officials should amend town code so residents can apply to the zoning board if they want exterior basement entrances or three-fixture bathrooms downstairs. Decisions would be made case-by-case, she said.

Area resident Carol Gardiner said officials should take into account law-abiding residents "who want to be compliant with the town code . . . "

Kenneth Little, another longtime area resident, said the law penalizes homeowners. He urged officials to "come up with something that wouldn't punish homeowners."

Area resident Pablo Sinclair said a revision might pave the way for illegal housing. "I'm not sure where the outcry is to change the zone," he said. "Go after illegal housing and get code enforcement to do their jobs," Sinclair urged the board.

Russell said officials are eyeing increased code enforcement, such as stiffer fines.

Westbury education officials urged the town during January's hearing to consider crowding in schools which they say can be caused by illegal housing. Enrollment is up nearly 20 percent from 2008 to 2013.

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