Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Skepticism Clear at Maritime Zoning Hearing


Click here to see a copy of the proposed resolution on the Town of Huntington's Web site.

An air of heavy skepticism was evident on the part of Huntington residents at a contentious public hearing held by the Town Tuesday, April 24 to discuss a controversial proposal to create a new zoning district known as “maritime.” In fact, tempers ran so high at the hearing that Supervisor Frank Petrone determined that a public information meeting was necessary to explain the proposal before the Town Board votes on it. A date has not yet been set but the Supervisor said it would likely be in May.

Under the zoning amendment proposal, the Town would change the zone of all areas covered by tidal waters at mean high water—defined as the average of all high tides over the previous 18.6 years— in the unincorporated portion of the Town from R-80 to the new maritime.
In 2000, the Town approved a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) for Huntington Harbor and the surrounding coastal area, exclusive of the Incorporated Villages of Huntington Bay and Lloyd Harbor. The Planning Department is in the process of preparing an LWRP for the remainder of the waters and coastal areas in the Town exclusive of the four incorporated villages within the Town. A draft has not yet been made to the public, which seemed to fuel the suspicion towards the rezoning.
The new district is required by the New York State Department of State in order for the Town’s draft LWRP to be accepted by the state. That in turn, say Town administrators, would allow the Town to have more control over its waterfront uses as well as qualify for more state funding.
“In terms of impact, it must be understood that the district will only relate to public lands submerged under water from the high water mark. These lands are for the most park owned by the Town and in some cases the state,” said Anthony Aloisio, Director of the Town’s Department of Planning and Environment. “The current zoning is for two acres residential use. A maritime zoning is more appropriate.”
He said the new zoning only affects the lands submerged under the water. “This will not interfere with current property owners’ right, insurance, taxes or used of upland property.”
Steve Ressler, of the New York Department of State, said that his department supports the rezoning. “We have asked for it for a long time,” he said. “We think it’s the appropriate thing to do to make sense of the appropriate uses of the coastal area of the Town of Huntington, which is bigger than the land sides. In exchange for the adoption of the LWRP, federal and state agencies are required to act in a manner consistent with the LWRP. In exchange for what we call ‘waivers of federal and state sovereignty” the state and federal governments will hold itself to the standards you enact in your local plan. We require approval of the new zoning district in exchange for those waivers so you bind yourself to the same standards that the state and federal governments bind itself. It’s you telling the federal and state governments what can and can’t be done.”
Many Town residents didn’t seem to be buying that explanation Tuesday night, particularly those who live directly on the water or who were representing those who do.
Diane De George has lived on waterfront property on Soundview Terrace in Waterside Park for 25 years. “We have an actual deed that tell us we own the land under the high water mark as well as a 1935 land survey,” she said. “Our concern is when they go and rezone what does that do to our property? Sure we own the inland but that gives access to people who can now walk on our properties at low tide. We have Crab Meadow Beach and we have a whole strip of property and Waterside Park, our little beach, and our concern is that people from Crab Meadow will now be able to access that because the land under high water mark is now public.”
Supervisor Petrone told her that Mr. Aloisio and his staff would address each case individually.
Joni Altner, president of the Property Owners of Eaton’s Neck Beach, accused the Board of “establishing a new high water mark” and “confiscating our property.”
Mrs. Altner rejected the idea that this zone change is required by the state. “The LWRP program was developed so each community could develop its own vision for its waterfront,” she said. “I was a member of Huntington’s LWRP. In 2002, we were told that the committee wasn’t going to meet regularly for a while because it lost some funding and restoring it would take a couple of months. We never heard back from the Town. So the LWRP you’re developing has no input from my community.”
Mrs. Altner, who circulated a petition requesting that the Town remove Eaton’s Neck from the area included in the zone change, said that she spoke to Mr. Ressler who disputed what her deed says.
“So due to the randomness of setting the high tide water mark, due to the lack of study for our area and, most egregiously, you had the opportunity to protect the Sallie Ruppert Preserve and you didn’t,” she said. The Sallie Ruppert Nature Preserve is located at the tip of Eaton’s Neck at Sand City, also known as Hobart Beach, owned by the Town.
Another POENB member and past president Christine Ballow said that she, too, was a member of the LWRP committee that stopped meeting. “And while we were on the committee none of these zoning issues ever came up,” he said. “My issue is with the mean high tide mark. I know many of our residents have underwater property on their deed so I have a problem with that possibly being taken away.”
She said she is suspicious that the zoning amendment has been “pushed through by people with agendas.”
Another Eaton’s Neck resident, Lawrence Beck, asked the Board why it didn’t simply exempt residential areas from the rezoning. “I get the impression that each on of your Board members are under the belief that there is no change at all to the residential property owners,” he said.
Supervisor Petrone said because the rezoning only applies to public property.
“It does not affect the upland property,” he said.
Mr. Beck rejected that. “You’re looking me in the eye and telling me my home five years from today is still going to be zoned the same way,” he said.
The Supervisor said yes.
Gordon Goldsmith of East Shore Road in Halesite asked the Board if the new district was a “fait acccompli.”
“Or would a petition stop the change?” he asked, adding that he was also a member of the LWRP committee. “But I asked too many questions and they stopped sending me notice of the meetings,” he said.
Councilman Mark Cuthbertson said that it’s a zone change so the Board would consider everything submitted to them before voting. “We’re in the process of having a public hearing, which means it’s not a fait accompli,” Councilman Cuthbertson said, adding that he shared the concerns the residents have now. “I see a lot of suspicion here. There’s no underlying scheme here. I wanted to know, ‘Is there some grant development scheme behind this?’ I asked Mr. Aloisio and there isn’t. There is a desire on our part to adopt a local rezoning law. Granted if I got a notice in the mail, I would be down here asking the same questions but I can tell you there’s no desire to do anything but adopt a regulatory law.”
Suzanne Ridenour of Abbot Drive in Huntington said that she has been trying to understand the property but “I’ve not been understanding it. It seems you need to get this to get that but we don’t understand what that is. Currently the LWRP is a lot of rumors about ferries, roundabouts, amusement parks. There are rumors we need to put to rest. This maritime issue is something that I don’t understand because it’s written in Greek so I come here and say, ‘What’s up?’”
South Huntington resident Marie Rendelly said that three minutes — the time allotted to each of the dozen speakers—was clearly not enough time for them to voice their concerns.
Supervisor Petrone took her suggestion and promised an informational meeting.

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