Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TOB and Area Civics Discuss Knockdowns

The presidents of the Glenwood / Glen Head, Todd Estates, and Hill Terrance civic associations met with Town of Oyster Bay (TOB) Planning Department officials last Wednesday to discuss mechanisms that can be used to better manage a growing trend: replacing perfectly sound homes with the largest new structures permitted under the current zoning code and, sometimes, subdividing the property to create several additional lots—often in neighborhoods where the average existing lot size is much larger and the average existing house size is much smaller than those created by the new construction.

“The practice is visible throughout the town,” Commissioner Jack Libert said. “In fact, you can’t miss it almost anywhere you go.” The situation can be difficult to address. “We thought about upzoning,” Deputy Commissioner Leslie Maccarone said. “But then in most places there would be so many nonconforming lots that practically everybody would have to appear before the zoning board to do almost anything.”

Nevertheless, mechanisms to balance the demand for expansion capability with the desire to preserve community character do exist. Commissioner Libert said that TOB has hired Frederick P. Clark Associates, a planning firm that the town has used on many previous occasions, to analyze the situation with respect to TOB and to make recommendations.

The commissioner and deputy suggested that the department furnish the civic associations with copies of the Fredrick P. Clark report when it is completed and requested civic feedback. In addition, a public hearing will be held. The department also has provided the civic associations with a map that clearly delineates the various zones in Glenwood Landing and Glen Head.

According to Jack and Leslie, one key measure being considered for inclusion in the code is floor-area-ratio (FAR), which takes into consideration the amount of living space relative to lot size. Although FAR is included in TOB's commercial code, it is currently not in the residential code. Other measures being evaluated are the amount of pervious surface (such as a lawn) to non-pervious surface (such as an asphalt driveway), as well as maximum height and roof pitch.

All of these measures can work together to permit the expansion of existing homes or the construction of new ones in a manner that does not overwhelm a neighborhood. The civic associations have requested that the town examine some additional zoning techniques that are also designed to accomplish this goal, including:

• requiring subdivided lots and/or new construction or additions to conform to the average lot and/or building size in a neighborhood rather than be limited only by the conditions set forth for a particular zone (a measure that has been adopted by the Town of North Hempstead);

• protections for structures that are architecturally or historically desirable from a local perspective or that are essential for preserving community character;

• stricter controls on variances granted to nonconforming lots;

• special protections for slopes, the defining geographical feature of the north shore;

• restrictions on creation of oddly shaped lots, which are sometimes carved out only to maximize yield;

• application of cluster housing and conservation subdivision concepts to large and small parcels (with the proviso that these concepts are not intended to increase yield);

We have also suggested the town demand that relatively small lots comply with state stormwater requirements, which apply only to construction-related disturbances of an acre or more but can be extended by local municipalities to include smaller disturbances.

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