Both Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth and a housing advocate issued statements Wednesday following a public hearing on a proposed expansion of the use of Accessory Dwelling Units. But, just as speakers did at the hearing, the two disagreed.
Smyth’s statement late Wednesday afternoon read, “For months I have expressed my concerns and opposition to basement apartments and their safety.
“After listening to the public hearing at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, I have even greater skepticism of the benefits these ADU’s provide.
“I am hopeful this well intentioned, yet flawed, proposal will be the catalyst for my colleagues to work together for a safe and sustainable housing policy that provides diverse housing options for Huntington.”
Earlier in the day, Housing Help Executive Director Pilar Moya-Mancera criticized some of the comments made at the hearing, and said many were misinformed.
Hundreds of people came out for a packed public hearing Tuesday night at Town Hall on a proposal that would expand the ways that Accessory Dwelling Units could be permitted.
The hearing focused on a proposal that would legalize the use of existing buildings such as garages for use as accessory apartments and reinstate the use of basement apartments, which were permitted until 2019. Basements approved before then have continued to be legal and available.
The town has long allowed accessory apartments in homes, provided they meet specific rules for safety, such as exits, smoke detectors, and space per tenant, and fall under the cap on the number of ADUs in any given neighborhood.
Many of the speakers expressed concerns that allowing apartments would change Huntington and its suburban, single-family home character. At times, many statements and comments fell alonggenerational lines.
Some raised the potential negative effects of apartments on traffic, overpopulation, parking, the environment and schools, with many doubting that rules would be enforced. Several cited problems in their neighborhoods with illegal apartments, or apartments that didn’t seem to adhere to rules already in place.
Update:On Wednesday, Pilar Moya-Mancera, executive director of Housing Help Inc. of Greenlawn, said,
Opponents appeared to outnumber proponents of the proposed ADU, with complaints about a potential increase in crime, overloading of school services, possible pedophilia, and a lack of code enforcement to ensure apartments meet town requirements.
One opponent wondered whether tenants in accessory apartments would be allowed to vote. Others saw tax increases or a downgrading of neighbors’ property values.
Other worried about changes in town, including a 97-year-old veteran, who said he was worried about changes in the “complexion” of the town.
And a Korean War veteran said, “I hate to say it but if I were younger I’d get the hell out of here. We’ve got to improve our town, county and country. We need it back the way I knew it and fought for. I’m not looking to blame anybody. The point is the area was built for single family homes. We can’t get into this business of sheds and garages. We’ve got to bring this county and country back or we’re going to be speaking Chinese. I fought against them. I know what they’re for.”
When several younger people spoke about the costs of trying to rent in Huntington, many residents pointed out that they had worked hard to be able to afford to buy homes here. One suggested young people should be willing to work second or third jobs, “As I did,” he said. Another, a woman with three children, said, “You can’t afford to be here? Oh, well.”
Another, citing the pro-apartment argument that allowing ADUs would help senior citizens to be able to afford to remain in their homes, expressed doubt about whether older homeowners would be able to deal with contractors and tenant issues.
At one point, 135 people were lined up outside Town Hall, unable to get in, while others waited in the lobby, as the meeting room was filled to capacity. Several who spoke later said they’d waited as long as two hours to get into the room to speak. Public safety officers kept a close eye on the numbers, ushering in newer arrivals as others left the meeting room.
The hearing got off to a rough start, when Supervisor Ed Smyth announced that speakers were limited to one minute of time, instead of the usual three. Several people shouted “no!” or demanded to be given more time. At one point, a man tried to give his one minute to a woman who had already finished speaking; another, in response to a question, asked to be able to speak as both a representative of a group and as a resident, but was denied, and a third was refused when she tried to get more time after she had met the one-minute deadline, but then others were allowed to exceed the limit.
During the meeting, several people said they would never vote for members of the Town Board again if they were to approve the resolution.
Councilwoman Joan Cergol was both booed and applauded when she described a flyer as “bunk” that had circulated recently criticizing the ADU expansion. She wrote a point-by-point response published Monday on HuntingtonNow.com
One speaker demanded estimates of how many new ADUs might result and what their effect would mean on first responders and others, and then accused her of not responding to his question when she first cited the number of ADUs already in town.
Councilman Sal Ferro fared a little better when he suggested that the town hadn’t done a good enough job explaining that many of the points outlined in the ADU expansion bill—such as limits on the number of units in a neighborhood—already existed in town law. “Not everybody has information on what we have or what we propose,” he said. “There’s a lot for us to process. We’ll do a better job of getting some information out to you.”
Other people, some of them tenants, spoke up on behalf of renters, while others said that younger people were having to move away because of the cost and lack of affordable housing. One said Huntington was becoming a town for older people, and said the lack of a younger population would harm businesses in the future.
The next Town Board meeting is scheduled for July 11. A vote on the ADU resolution has not been scheduled.