Town Allows For Overlay Exemptions


It’s been more than a year and a half since the Town of North Hempstead began conversations on whether or not to lift the New Cassel Overlay District, and last week the board finally reached a solution.

“It’s a compromise between getting rid of it altogether and keeping it the same,” said Councilwoman Viviana Russel. “The compromise provides an avenue for those who own homes within the Overlay District to be able to have the amenities in their home, but they have to go through a different process.”

At their town meeting on Sept. 29, the board adopted a law allowing residents to file for a special use permit granting them permission to add exterior entrances and three-piece bathrooms to their basements, features that were previously banned by the New Cassel Overlay District.

The board decision came at the recommendation of the Overlay District Committee, a 12-person team comprised of New Cassel residents and members of community-based organizations. The committee was formed last year after two public hearings on whether or not to lift the overlay district drew strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

The New Cassel Overlay District has been in place since 2006, and was formed in an attempt to curb illegal housing in the area by restricting certain items that residents could add to their homes. These items included having a full bathroom (with sink, toilet and shower) and separate staircase entrances to the basement.

Russel proposed lifting the restrictions in January 2014, noting that it was implemented only in New Cassel and nowhere else in the town, and that there was no proof enacting the Overlay District had decreased illegal housing in the area. While some residents heartily agreed with rescinding the restriction, saying that the Overlay prevented them from helpful home improvements and modifications, others, including members of the school district, vocally opposed, saying that lifting the restrictions would lead to an increase in illegal housing, a problem already plaguing the area. After two public hearings, the town formed the Overlay committee, which met approximately six times before recommending the board provide a way that residents wishing to make modifications to their home that wouldn’t fit under the Overlay District, be allowed to apply for a special permit from the board of zoning appeals.

Overlay committee member Lamonte Bailey said it was a tough balance between protecting the community from illegal housing and homeowners’ rights.

“You have a conflict between the illegal housing and the problems it’s causing, versus the discrimination which exists against New Cassel residents,” Bailey said. “We need better enforcement, but why punish the people in the area who just want the convenience everyone else has?”

Residents wishing to modify their homes as a result of the new amendment would have to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and apply for a special use permit, which would cost $50. But the special use permit won’t always be granted. The BZA would not grant a permit to homeowners that had prior convictions related to illegal housing, if it would result in overcrowding or increase the danger of fire, or have a negative impact to neighboring properties. And if the homeowner is found to be illegally renting their home after the permit is granted, it will be revoked.

“This is a continuation of a discussion we’ve been having for quite some time,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “I think this is an excellent compromise that doesn’t penalize homeowners who are taxpayers who want to have the ability to do what all other homeowners in the town have the ability to do.”

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