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Proposal to broadly legalize accessory dwelling units receives local criticism

A state proposal to widely legalize accessory dwelling units has come under fire in recent weeks from Long Island lawmakers, who have largely cited concerns about overdevelopment and loss of local control. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul in her State of State book outlined a proposal to require municipalities to allow at least one ADU on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots. ADUs might include backyard cottages, attics, garages and basements. 

The State of State book notes that ADUs can “provide an affordable multi-generational housing option that helps families live closer together.” The proposal “would allow municipalities to set minimum and maximum size requirements” that meet safety standards but don’t impair reasonable new construction. Capital funding would be available for municipalities or nonprofits to assist in legalizing or creating new ADUs.

At a work session Tuesday, the Southold Town Board indicated plans to write a letter opposing the proposed legislation.

“It removes the ability of the towns to basically determine for themselves whether they’re going to allow accessory apartments or not,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “It removes a lot of local discretion. Now, ironically, Southold actually has … liberalized the accessory apartment law so much that we probably comply with a lot of this right out of the gate. Still, there is a philosophical issue in terms of home rule.”

The Town Board expressed concern about how the legislation would impact safety, code enforcement and zoning. 

“I understand the need for more apartments, but quite honestly if there’s any of this that a town thinks is going to help promote affordable apartments then they should have the authority to adopt that at a local level,” Mr. Russell said. 

Board members referenced a press release from Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow), who is among the Long Island lawmakers who have criticized the measure. At a Feb. 9 press conference, she and other Republican legislators called on Gov. Hochul to rescind the ADU proposal.

Ms. Giglio expressed concerns about the potential impact on school districts and the environment, and said in a press release that officials and advocates believe “such further expansion will end the suburban quality of life so many Long Islanders enjoy.”

“The North Fork already struggles with the issue of code enforcement being unable to enforce rental laws. Quality of life will be sacrificed by many Long Islanders as corporations buy these multi-family units in our residential neighborhoods. I dread to think of how they will take advantage of this policy,” Ms. Giglio said in a statement. “ADUs present no solutions to overpopulation in the cities, but instead transfer that issue to the suburban region on Long Island. And because Long Island is not equipped for that level of population influx, we’re going to see a slew of tax hikes, utility rate spikes, and the potential for rent control dangers.”

She also criticized the legislation at an environmental roundtable hosted with state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). Mr. Palumbo joined a bipartisan group of local government officials to condemn the proposal as well, at a recent Brookhaven Town Hall press conference. 

“My concern and the concerns of many on Long Island is this proposal will take away local zoning control and lead to a dramatic increase in density, placing additional strains on local services, such as emergency response, the region’s infrastructure and our clean water and environmental efforts,” he said in a statement. “Shifting these decisions away from local governments and having them controlled with a top down approach from Albany is turning a deaf ear to the needs of localities. Each municipality on Long Island is unique and a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer to our affordable housing needs.”

The proposal was similarly censured by state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who is chair of the Assembly Committee on Local Governments. He expressed appreciation for the executive budget proposal in a Feb. 15 press statement, but called on the state legislature to reject the “ill-considered executive proposal.” Permit applications for ADUs would “be considered ministerial without discretionary review or hearing,” he said. 

Mr. Thiele expressed concern about the proposal taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach and usurping local zoning authority. “It would legally permit the doubling of residential density in all cities, towns and villages,” he said. 

“We cannot ignore the reality that local land use laws should be and already are based on well-balanced comprehensive planning that considers all community needs, not just one,” he said. “Housing is important but so is water quality, natural resources and infrastructure in equal measure.” 

He points out that ADUs are already legal in many of the towns he represents on the East End. The problem, rather, is that homeowners have not been creating them, he said. 

“The process can be confusing, time-consuming and costly,” he said. “Permitting costs, the land use process, capital costs of construction, real property tax consequences, and the responsibilities of being a landlord can all be daunting and financially prohibitive. In short, there is little incentive to do it legally. This top-down mandate will not change that.”

He added that he shares “the goal of creating more affordable housing” and he agrees that “ADUs should be part of that strategy,” but the state proposal is not the answer. The state should partner with municipalities instead, he said, by “providing resources such as technical assistance, model local laws, best practices and funding to local government to implement a workable accessory dwelling unit program.” 

Mr. Thiele plans to work with his colleagues to “reject state mandates in favor of a state and local partnership,” and looks forward to pushing for a new proposal “to support the creation of ADUs without sacrificing the authority of local government.”

Village of Greenport trustee and affordable housing advocate Julia Robins said she supports “the concept of the governor’s ADU bill,” although she understands “the pushback local governments have with a mandate for the creation of affordable accessory units.”

“We are in a housing crisis that is unprecedented in New York as well as many parts of the country,” she said. “The governor’s concept is good but the means to create ADUs should be the responsibility of the communities who desperately need housing for their retail and service workers, first responders, teachers and tradespeople.”

She said the Village Board is working on draft legislation to create accessory apartments and plans to discuss a revised draft at the upcoming work session. 

Ms. Robins recently founded a housing task force in the village, which is discussing ADUs “as a potentially effective strategy to address the crisis,” she said. 

Ms. Robins supports R2 zoning — or one- and two-family residence district zoning — in all residential districts; ADUs as a permitted use subject to safety, setback and height restrictions; income based guidelines for occupancy; and deeded covenants and restrictions for use as affordable dwelling units in perpetuity.

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