North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said Democrats on the...

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said Democrats on the town board “continue to stand in the way of reforms.”  Credit: Reece T. Williams

Democrats on the North Hempstead Town Board have rejected Supervisor Jennifer DeSena’s bid to strip the board of its power to override the building commissioner’s decision on requests for expedited permit reviews.  

The measure would have amended the town code to remove a provision that allows the seven board members, including the supervisor, to supersede those decisions and would also require the commissioner to render a “proposed written determination” within seven days of a request.

After a more than two-hour public hearing, three Republicans voted yes on the proposal, three Democrats chose to abstain and Democrat Mariann Dalimonte voted no.

In a statement, DeSena said the “longer the majority Councilmembers continue to stand in the way of reforms, the longer our residents suffer an undue financial burden and lengthy permitting delays due to our broken Building Department.”

“While I’m not surprised that the majority Councilmembers refused to support my proposal, it’s disheartening to see that they’re willing to abandon the best interests of our residents in order to deprive me a ‘victory,’ ” the supervisor added. 

At the meeting, Building Commissioner John Niewender said he supported the proposal.

“Leave the authority with me,” Niewender told the board. “Let me make the decisions. If you don’t like my decisions, you call me up and ask why I did that.”

In the past five years, 390 requests for an expedited permit application review were denied and 56 of those were overridden by council members, town officials said. 

The override provision was introduced in 2007, the same year a corruption scandal embroiled the department, leading to the indictment of ex-commissioner David Wasserman and others. Wasserman pleaded guilty to several charges, including grand larceny, and was sentenced to a year in jail.

The Democrats said certain language in DeSena’s resolution was concerning.

The word “proposed” in the written determination aspect of the law and a part of the resolution alarmed Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat. She noted it may imply that the commissioner could decide on expediting a permit using factors beyond the four criteria that are typically considered.

Currently, the commissioner must determine whether the request meets one or more of the stated criteria, including to accommodate an emergency situation; advance public interest; is connected to an essential service; or to avoid extreme financial hardship, the town code states.

“As a lawyer I can’t vote yes to a law I know has an issue with it,” Lurvey told Newsday. “We need to fix it first and adopt it later.”

Dalimonte also said at the meeting that she would consider supporting the proposal if there are changes to it. She also called for the formation of a building department task force to address residents’ concerns, which other board members supported.

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