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LI town officials collaborate with builders to ease backlog of building permits

Mitch Pally, the CEO of Long Island Builders

Mitch Pally, the CEO of Long Island Builders Institute. Credit: Heather Walsh

Daily Point

Exploring ways to help Long Island builders and homeowners cut down on the red tape of permits

It’s rare that town officials from Babylon, Brookhaven and Huntington are all on the same page.

But Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer and Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci – along with the Huntington Town board, have all expressed support of bills making their way through the State Legislature that would streamline the building permit process and allow builders to "self-certify" projects that conform with local and town codes. That would give the builder the ability to sign off that a project meets a town’s codes, cutting through some of the bureaucracy of having towns approve every building permit.

The bills, sponsored by State Sen. Jim Gaughran, come as the permitting process is backlogged in towns across Long Island, in part because of reduced staffing levels due to the pandemic and in part because of increased interest in renovating or building new homes. The bills would allow localities to create a self-certification process, but would not force any communities or towns to participate.

"The men and women in building departments around the state work very hard but there’s this unprecedented backlog," Gaughran told The Point. "We hope this will alleviate that."

In a letter to state lawmakers, Schaffer wrote that the self-certification concept would "go a long way toward helping our region get back on its feet…"

Long Island Builders Institute head Mitch Pally told The Point that the legislation would allow builders to certify that their work meets code, which would reduce the amount of work each town has to go through on every renovation, repair and new construction. Builders, he noted, would put their licenses on the line in certifying the work, and if builders lied or fraudulently certified their work, their licenses could be revoked.

Such self-certification would come after any necessary public comment periods, and site plan or zoning approvals.

"We’re trying to find ways we can make the system more efficient," Pally said.

Sources told The Point that the only pushback that has arisen is from municipal unions concerned about what the change would do to staffing levels inside the building departments.

"In our belief, it will actually increase the staffing needs of the towns," Pally responded.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Democratic contenders flocking to CD1 race as Zeldin seeks to move on

Add another Democrat to the list of those considering an open-seat CD1 run given the chance that Rep. Lee Zeldin goes ahead with a campaign for governor.

The latest is Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn.

"I have been encouraged by community leaders and supporters across Long Island to consider a congressional run, and I have agreed to do so," the Setauket Democrat said in an email to The Point. "Over the next few weeks, I’m going to continue to have conversations with voters across the district as I seek the best way to continue serving our community."

Hahn, the legislature’s deputy presiding officer who previously has worked in PR and child care advocacy, joins the likes of fellow Legis. Bridget Fleming and 2020 CD1 Democratic contender Nancy Goroff in looking at the race. The possibility of an open Congressional seat in Suffolk is tantalizing to many Democrats who see it as a good chance to flip the district blue for the first time since 2014. However, if Zeldin decides to seek a fifth term, the odds of winning get more daunting.

Hahn is in her second-to-last term in the legislature due to term limits. The election timeline means she can run for reelection to the legislature in November and keep that job while running for Congress. That can come with downsides, as Fleming herself saw during her 2020 participation in the CD1 Democratic primary: If you focus on the county race and don’t start a Congressional campaign in earnest until after November, you could be giving other candidates months to fundraise and organize. And Hahn does have a GOP opponent for the legislative race.

That said, there’s still plenty of time for more developments in the 2022 contest, time that even more Democrats will spend talking to donors and political leaders and positioning themselves against rivals left and right.

In her email to The Point, Hahn said the district needed someone who wasn’t "spouting right-wing talking points on TV," and she hinted at her home-grown roots, different from the previous two Democratic standard-bearers in the district: "As someone born and raised in Suffolk County and raising my own family here, I truly love this community and I believe we deserve better."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Starting strong

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Final Point

NY enviros focusing on shifting the recycling burden to product producers

Environmentalists in and out of government were pleased with the state budget approved earlier this month. Now their focus has shifted to legislation for the rest of the session.

One measure just passed in both the State Senate and Assembly would mandate that all passenger cars and trucks be zero-emissions by 2035 and all medium and heavy-duty trucks by 2045. Other bills being pushed include one that would promote, via tax credits and bid preferences for state work, the use of low-carbon concrete to reduce emissions (Sen. Todd Kaminsky); a measure to join other Northeast states in protecting smaller wetlands (Assemb. Steve Englebright); a bill to make clear in state law that kelp farming is explicitly allowed in the Peconic Estuary and Gardiners Bay (Assemb. Fred Thiele); and a measure that would ban the use of various seeds coated with neonicotinoids, known as neonics, toxic insecticides that kill pollinators, birds and fish.

But the big kahuna of the session, what one Assembly insider called "the granddaddy of them all," is a bill referred to by enviros and Albany types as EPR. The acronym stands for extended producer responsibility, a concept that requires manufacturers to pay the costs of recycling the products they make. Money would be paid to municipalities that run recycling programs, but advocates hope the law would lead companies to reduce packaging or switch to materials that are cheaper to recycle.

Lobbying against the bill has been heavy, per Albany denizens there also is a lot of backing for it.

"There have been really surprising coalitions in support of it," Kaminky told The Point, mentioning the environmental community as well as counties, towns and other municipalities struggling to pay recycling costs. Manufacturers also "are buying in," Kaminsky said. "They want to be at the table in setting policy."

Englebright and Kaminsky, the two Long Islanders chairing the Legislature’s environmental conservation committees, haven’t always had the smoothest interactions but both say good conversations are taking place on the bill. "It’s a priority for both of us and we really have to get it right," Kaminsky said.

Issues include what materials/products would be included and how much influence manufacturers will have in the regulatory process.

"It’s being heavily debated and hotly negotiated," said Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, "which we think is a good thing."

Whether that produces a good bill remains to be seen.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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