Letter: Cergol Responds to Accessory Apartment Claims

To Huntington NOW,`

I am writing to clarify widespread misunderstanding and confusion concerning proposed Town of Huntington Local Law #13-2023 to amend the Town of Huntington Accessory Apartment Dwelling (ADU) Code. As a sponsor of this measure, I am in receipt of emails and phone calls which evidence the fact that Town residents are responding to erroneous information contained in a flyer that was recently mailed to their homes. I know, because I received it, too.

I thought it best to separate the fact from the fiction in the form of a Q&A as follows:

Q: Will this proposed law allow every homeowner to rent multiple apartments in their main dwelling, in basements, or in any detached structures on their property?

No, it will not.  The Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program rules include a saturation clause. This means that an applicant for an ADU must first clear a hurdle that their proposed ADU does not exceed the 10% limit for ADUs allowed within a half mile radius of their property. Therefore, any statement that suggests every homeowner can build an ADU in their home is simply incorrect.

Q: Can a homeowner build more than one ADU on a property?

Absolutely not. Multiple ADUs cannot be constructed on a single parcel because the program strictly allows only one accessory dwelling per lot/property.

Q: Who can apply to construct an ADU?

A major provision of the ADU Code is that the property is owner-occupied, meaning that the homeowner must live in either the main dwelling or the accessory dwelling unit. Those who are absentee landlords do not qualify and therefore cannot apply for this program.

Q: Why are detached structures included in this proposal and which types can be used?

Some homeowners may find it preferable to locate an ADU elsewhere on the property, such as in a detached garage structure. However, under the program rules an ADU can be no smaller than 300 square feet, and no larger than 750 square feet. It has been suggested that backyard sheds can be converted which is nonsense. Sheds range in size from 25 square feet to 120 square feet and would therefore be ineligible. Again, the Town’s ADU program only allows one ADU per property and New York State Building and Fire Safety Codes, Town Codes, off-street parking requirements and the Suffolk County Sanitary Code apply.

Q: Doesn’t Town Code prohibit unsafe basement apartments?  

Yes it does. Town of Huntington and New York State Building Codes certainly do prohibit unsafe basement apartments, be them in owner-occupied or non-owner-occupied (absentee landlord) homes. And when found, Public Safety’s Code Enforcement officers will issue a notice of violation, and when necessary, bring the property owner to court.

These are the basement apartments that you read about in the newspaper when disaster or emergency strikes, and often, they are found in urban environments where buildings are connected to one another other along the lot line and therefore cannot offer an alternate opportunity for egress or meet other regulations required under the NYS Building Code.

Q: Then why does this proposal allow basement apartments and what other provisions, if any, does this measure include for ADU basement apartments?

What many do not realize is the Town allowed basement apartments under the ADU Code from 1991, when it was first enacted, until 2019, so long as the unit met all strict New York State Building and Fire Codes (including egress), Town Codes, Suffolk County Sanitary Code and Accessory Dwelling Unit Program criteria, including required off street parking. During this nearly thirty-year period the Town reported no incidents or issues with ADU program basement apartments because they are subject to continuing regulation and inspections as is any other ADU under the program. As such these units are perfectly safe for tenants, landlords and potential emergency responders.

While the proposal to re-allow a legalized basement under the ADU program is not new, what is new is this proposed law includes an additional precautionary feature of required fire sprinklers for any proposed basement apartment in the program. It also requires notification by the Town’s Fire Marshal to all relevant fire and rescue agencies of the existence and details of such unit once approved by the Town.

Q: What about our emergency responders?

Emergency responders, Town-wide, recognize that in the event of emergency and regardless of whether a structure is legal or illegal, will nonetheless be dispatched to the scene. In the case of the proposed ADU amendments, the sponsors have spent significant time and care engaging members of the fire and rescue communities to discuss concerns with great sensitivity to create public policy that supports and protects them. Through that process of engagement, Huntington’s fire and rescue communities have come to recognize that this measure helps them, not hurts them, and have therefore expressed their support for it.

Q: What is driving these proposed amendments to the Town’s ADU program?

The sponsors’ intent of this proposal is to support and protect:

  • Huntington’s first responder communities
  • Huntington residents who are facing economic difficulties remaining in their homes
  • Huntington residents who deserve peace and enjoyment of their neighborhoods; and
  • Huntington residents in search of safe and alternative rental housing options.

Q: What about the protection of our environment, our infrastructure, Town services and schools?

The ADU program, on the books since January 1991, and in its almost thirty years, has yielded 2,200 apartments in a Town that has approximately 70,000 homes so its impact is minimal. Because ADUs are compact by design and requirement, they do not attract families with children, but rather, seniors, singles, or young couples starting out in life. Most ADUs are not even detectable in a neighborhood due to off-street parking requirements and other program rules. Therefore, by no means does a legalized ADU pose a strain on our environment, to our public infrastructure, Town services or schools.

And, just like for any other property, a homeowner seeking to convert space in their home into an Accessory Dwelling Unit must meet the wastewater discharge requirements of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. If the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, in its expert assessment, deems any additional wastewater improvements, such as an Innovative Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment (I/A OWTS) system to be installed on a given property, it shall require one.

Q: Do ADUs increase our taxes?

No, but they do increase the taxes of the homeowner who qualifies and creates one under the program. According to the Town of Huntington Assessor’s Office, a landlord’s tax assessment is subject to increase after finishing a basement or adding a legal ADU on the property because such improvements contribute to an increase of the property’s value- to which tax assessment is tied. Additionally, when a homeowner is approved for an ADU under the Town’s program, their refuse/garbage pickup rate is increased.

According to the National Association of Realtors, ADUs can add 35% to a home’s value which in turn will increase the property values of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Q: How can the Town ensure that any ADUs created under its program remain in compliance?

A legal ADU Special Use Permit means that the homeowner’s accessory apartment meets all New York State Building Codes (including required egress), Town Codes including off street parking, as well as Suffolk County Health Department regulations. These strict requirements must continue to be met year after year or the Town can and will revoke the permit. The Town monitors ADU program compliance under required continuing inspections of the ADU.  The single-family zoning classification of a homeowner in possession of a Special Use Permit for an ADU, does not change; it remains zoned as a single-family residence.

Q: Is this a housing plan?

No it’s not. While the Town continues to face steep challenges with new development in meeting the housing needs and concerns of all residents, the ADU Program is not and has never been a housing plan due to its limited application. Rather, it is a program that was designed to help our residents remain and age into their own homes, and second to that, to provide alternative housing options to help meet the housing needs of our residents.

What the anonymous author/s of the unfortunate mailing piece miss is that the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program, first and foremost, has always been and continues to be, a very limited program designed to help homeowners remain in their homes, most especially our seniors.

On the flip side, I am happy to share that I have also received many emails in support of this measure, including from the parents of young adult developmentally or physically disabled children who are desperate to keep their loved one close and safe, while at the same time helping them to learn to live a somewhat independent life. A legal permitted accessory apartment on their own property is far preferable than the very dismal prospect of having to send their son or daughter hours and hours away to some out-of-town group home. There are many families who require a similar situation to keep a vulnerable loved one close, while allowing them the dignity of having their own space.

While I understand that not everyone will embrace the ADU program, as an elected leader it is within my responsibilities to consider the needs of all members in our community, and to arrive at public policy that protects the interests of all.  In my over twenty years’ experience in Huntington Town government, I have closely monitored and even co-authored numerous amendments to our affordable housing code as well as to the ADU Code. As such I am well-versed in housing policy and its attendant issues. In all of these years, it has always been abundantly clear that it is not the relatively small number of legalized owner-occupied ADUs that are the problem, but rather, the illegal absentee-landlord owned or other unpermitted rentals. Huntington NOW readers can rest assured that our highly dedicated Department of Public Safety/Code Enforcement vigorously continues to chase those down each and every day, as emphasized above.

While I understand and respect that residents will differ on this measure, I am merely asking those formulating an opinion on Local Law 13-2023 to do so based on the facts as presented above, and not on exaggerated and false narrative with childish cartoons designed misinform and even worse, scare people.



Councilwoman, Town of Huntington


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