20 Aug 2014
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De Giorgio: On 'Main Street Visioning' in Port Washington

The councilwoman provides details.

De Giorgio: On 'Main Street Visioning' in Port Washington

On Sept. 20, the will present several , particularly the first four blocks. We will discuss plans for streetscape improvements, merchant parking, façade improvements and legalization of mixed use zoning. I know that this concept of “mixed used zoning” is causing apprehension, and in some cases fear, among many residents.

It is important to remember that Main Street, particularly the first four blocks, is predominantly mixed use already. There are approximately 71 residential units within these four blocks. Although mixed residential and commercial use is not “legal” under the current zoning code, it exists nonetheless; and it has been that way for more than 50 years. It is equally important to remember that mixed use on Main Street will continue to exist, regardless of whether it is legalized or remains non-conforming. Therefore, leaving the zoning code as is will not decrease density, improve parking or traffic issues, eliminate or change the current mixed use on Main Street.  

Allowing this actual use to become conforming, rather than non- confirming, has many benefits. First, any property owner who wishes to add or increase residential use will be required to have on-site parking for every residential unit. Second, property owners must include certain unique architectural elements in their property design, such as gables, window boxes, awnings and attractive signage. This avoids the “cookie cutter” look that many fear for Main Street. Third, property owners will be incentivized to create utility hookups in the rear of the buildings and to include rear garbage dumpsters as part of their design.

Doing nothing and allowing the existing non-conforming residential use to continue has several disadvantages. First, current property owners cannot renovate more than 51 percent of their building (either voluntarily or because of a fire or other disaster) without losing the ability to have mixed use. Since most of the properties in these four blocks are mixed use; this discourages large scale voluntary improvements, lowers property values, and would create a hardship in the event of a fire or other disaster.   Second, it is more difficult for property owners to sell or refinance properties whose use is non-confirming. The inability to sell or refinance property easily is undesirable, lowers overall property values and makes much needed and desirable improvements to properties less likely to occur.

The proposal that will be presented on Sept. 20 has several key elements. First, the ability to have mixed use will be conditional and not “as of right.” This means that any property owner who wishes to add or increase residential use must apply to the Town Board, not the Building Department or the BZA, for approval. The Town Board, after a public hearing, will determine whether the increased or new residential use will be permitted. The Board must consider whether the project meets the goals set forth in the code; such as on site parking for residential units; the presence of unique architectural elements, rear utility hook ups and rear garbage dumpsters. Traffic flow in and around the property will also be considered. All constituents will receive sufficient notice of each application and have the opportunity to voice any particular concerns on a project by project basis. Second, the height of the building will be limited to three stories (one floor of commercial and two floors of residential units above). The current zoning code permits three stories of commercial use.  The changes do not exceed the height currently permitted. Third, the maximum density allowed will be no more than 24 units per one acre. In some instances this density is less than what currently exists in certain buildings in this area on Main Street.  

In addition to the proposed zoning changes, several other initiatives will be discussed. The Town, at my request, has applied for several grants from New York State and Nassau County to fund streetscape improvements and façade enhancements for all store owners (tenants and landlords) on Main Street. Tenants or property owners are not required to increase or create residential use to qualify for these grants. There are plans for sidewalk improvements, tree planting and overall design improvements to our parking lots.  Some of the engineering costs necessary to implement these plans have been included in the annual community block grant received by the Town from the County. These initiatives are not contingent on the legalization of mixed use.  However, the improvements will occur sooner if grant money, rather than borrowed funds, can be used.  Grant money does not have to be repaid and therefore will not increase or affect our property taxes.  Port Washington is competing with many other municipalities across New York State for the same grant funding. Our application is more likely to be approved if it is the context of a larger “Downtown Revitalization” project.   

I am working on a merchant parking plan that will incentivize merchants to park in lots off Main Street, rather than be forced to utilize “premium” parking on Main Street.

I will continue to work on these initiatives during my tenure as Councilwoman; whether mixed use is officially permitted or not.   However, after much research and discussion with various experts in the planning field, I have determined that legalizing mixed use on Main Street, and introducing planning where none currently exists, is an important part of the overall revitalization of Main Street.   
On Sept. 20 there will be an exchange of accurate information between residents and the Town. Successful government depends on transparency, pragmatism and the free exchange of ideas. I ask everyone, whether for or against these initiatives, to listen with an open mind; focus on the facts presented and offer constructive criticism combined with practical suggestions. I assure you that I will be listening carefully.  Please e-mail any questions or comments on any of the issues contained herein to me at degiorgiod@northhempsteadny.gov.

Dina De Giorgio, R-Port Washington, is a North Hempstead councilwoman who represents Port Washington. Check  De Giorgio's Portal 2 Port website for further updates. 

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