North Castle officials are prepared to fight a local state senator’s bill to allow for as-of-right accessory dwelling units statewide by galvanizing other municipalities to raise opposition to their state representatives and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Last week, the Town Board unanimously passed a resolution denouncing bill S4547A, a measure that has been proposed by state Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) which would allow at least one accessible dwelling unit on every residential parcel and parcels that have residential uses.
North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro said his colleagues from other local governments from around the state have begun sounding the alarm because the possibility of the law being adopted increased when Hochul included the bill in her proposed 2023 fiscal year budget.
The resolution approved by North Castle last week stated that the law would usurp municipal home rule and prohibit communities to craft zoning to protect the environment, infrastructure, school enrollment and emergency services.
“This is probably one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen in my life, since I’ve been on the Town Board,” Schiliro said. “It’s just terrible.”
Board members argued that they are not shirking their responsibility for providing a diversified housing stock. The resolution pointed to North Castle’s adoption of its 1984 accessory dwelling unit regulation, the creation of its middle-income unit program in 1994 and passage of its affordable housing ordinance based on Westchester County’s model in 2014.
While the law doesn’t explicitly mention elimination of single-family zoning, similar to what has been passed in Minneapolis and portions of Oregon and California, Schiliro said the legislation would almost eliminate it.
“We’re all for affordable housing, we’re all for supporting these where they exist, or if you want to put new ones in,” he said. “But it’s home rule. We make the zoning decisions. We have choice over parking, sewer, water, septic, setbacks, variances, all those things. It goes out the window.”
Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto urged residents to contact their state representatives. The town will be working with officials from other towns who feel similarly to fight the law.
“Every elected official in Albany needs to get this resolution as well as every other municipality that feels as strongly as we do,” DiGiacinto said. “We really need to rally the troops all over the state.”
Harckham’s office pointed to the senator’s statement that was released last Thursday in response to former Nassau County executive and current Congressman Tom Suozzi, who similarly criticized the law last week. Suozzi is challenging Hochul for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Harckham called Suozzi’s opposition to the legislation in his quest to win the nomination “shameful.”
“This legislation, which I introduced last year with Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, will benefit our communities by providing seniors with added income to pay their bills and gray in place while also making affordable housing available to first responders, teachers, working families and young professionals,” Harckham stated. “For Suozzi, the ‘single family zoning’ that he espouses is actually a dog-whistle for the exclusionary zoning that leads to segregated communities and a lack of affordable housing.”
Assemblyman Chris Burdick (D-Bedford) who represents North Castle said while he shares Harckham’s concerns about the shortage of affordable housing there are changes that can be made. He said he has proposed to Harckham and Epstein revisions in the law that grandfathers in municipalities that have affordable housing ordinances on the books.
“I think we have to be very cautious about taking action where you’re going to upend what local municipalities are doing,” Burdick said.
For North Castle, one serious issue it faces is the shortage of parking in the hamlet of North White Plains, caused in part by illegal apartments and small lot sizes. Director of Planning Adam Kaufman said the law would exacerbate the problem because it allows for the conversion of existing garages into accessory units. One provision allows for relaxing parking requirements unless it’s more than a half-mile from a bus stop. Kaufman said.
Another allows for the conversion of empty office space into apartments, he said.
“I think this would fundamentally risk changing our town and towns like ours for the worse in a way that couldn’t be fixed,” said Councilman Matt Milim.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/