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“We know best” echo Long Island towns against Hochul’s housing plan

New York Governor Kathy Hochul
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of the Governor
New York Governor Kathy Hochul

Several towns in Suffolk County joined Nassau in opposing Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to build more housing units on Long Island in the next decade.

Last week, Nassau County towns and cities questioned the proposal Hochul made in her State of the State address on Jan. 10 to add 800,000 more new housing units statewide in 10 years — 300,000 of which were set for Long Island by some estimates.

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth said Hochul can “fuhgeddaboudit,” comparing Huntington to Brooklyn.

“There are precious few open spaces left in Huntington for new construction. There is no such thing as development, only redevelopment,” he wrote in an open letter to the governor on Jan. 19. “New projects almost always require demolition or repurposing of existing structures.”

Symth joined elected leaders, who are mostly Republican-led municipalities — including Riverhead, Smithtown, Brookhaven and Islip — saying the plan unfairly targets Long Island and overrules their local zoning control. Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar blasted the proposal for trying to be a “one size fits all” solution to every housing problem.

“Ideally, the state should continue to work with each local government regarding housing needs,” she said in a joint statement Monday.

Under her plan, the downstate counties would have to add 3% more new housing units every three years. Upstate would be required to grow by 1%. Currently, Long Island has the lowest rate of new housing in the state — just over 0.5% from 2018 to 2020.

If they fail to meet their goal, the state would take over the approval process for developers. This could be done through a state housing approval authority.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said local zoning code helps Long Island avoid “looking like the crowded neighborhoods of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.”

“That’s not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want,” Romaine said in a statement. “This wrongheaded plan will not solve our affordable housing plan, but it will devalue the homes and quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

The proposal also would rezone neighborhoods within half a mile of a Long Island Rail Road station and expedite the rezoning of commercial space into residential to accommodate multifamily housing.

“Concern over changing large areas from commercial to residential is not NIMBY-ism, but rather a sober look at the challenges such redevelopment creates,” Smyth writes.

He touted Huntington for allowing single-family homes to add an accessory apartment to their dwelling. This year alone the town already issued over 2,000 accessory units. Commercial spaces are also allowed to put apartments on the ground floor without rezoning.

Towns are also concerned about the overburden to schools and first responders, and whether increased density would create traffic gridlock and endanger the environment, especially if the state gives shortcuts around certain permits.

“Bottom line you can’t add more population to the area without the proper infrastructure and waste water management in place first,” Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim said in a statement.

The towns argue they know what’s best for their communities.

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter boasts the 375-unit affordable complex in the Carleton Park neighborhoods of Central Islip, which she attributed to helping relieve some of the drug and economic mobility concerns there.

“Now we’re under attack — New York state attacking our right to govern ourselves, decide what our neighborhoods look like, to turn us into the city. I will not let that happen. Home rule is what it’s all about — Home rule is what the people want and deserve,” Carpenter said in a statement.

However, Hochul maintained this week that her plan ensures that the housing will be affordable for their residents.

“There's so many areas where, you know, we can help people,” she said during a separate housing event in Rochester on Monday.

She said the state will help incentivize new housing construction and rehabilitate old or abandoned properties, including commercial malls, with a $250 million infrastructure fund — which Smyth said is not enough.

He invited Hochul to attend a listening session for the redevelopment of Melville at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26 at RXR Executive park to come up with a long-term sustainable plan for housing in Huntington.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.