Proposed Town of Hempstead dock rental law draws backlash


Residents of waterfront communities, including Oceanside and Island Park, criticized a proposed law, which would ban the practice of renting out dock space on shoreside residential properties, at a May 22 Hempstead Town Board meeting.

Homeowners blasted the measure, characterizing it as government overreach harmful to the livelihoods of families still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. They also cited confusion over the resolution, asking for a public hearing on the matter before the town board considered its passage.

“I’m a waterfront homeowner, and the Town of Hempstead has neglected to explain this code properly,” said Oceanside resident Elisa Pannella. She added that given the thousands of waterfront homes in Nassau County, the 300 boat rental complaints made to the Town Department of Conservation and Waterways over the past two years, which officials said reinforced the need for expanded legislation, were “not enough to take away our right for over 100 years.”

The proposed law was introduced at a May 11 news conference in Bellmore hosted by Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, which Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said at the meeting was the first time she had heard of it. D’Esposito maintained that the measure was not intended to penalize homeowners with multiple boats docked in their backyards, but rather to crack down on the practice of operating unregulated marinas on residential property. “This is simply to avoid having commercial establishments running out of their backyard,” he said, adding that unregulated marinas create congestion and pose environmental threats to South Shore waterways.

Freeport resident Debbie Wilson said that although she owns neither a boat nor a waterfront property, throughout her 55 years in the village she had not heard of any complaints. “I know people who own homes and rent out space behind them. I know people who own boats and rent out space behind homes,” she explained. “I don’t ever recall a situation where there was a problem.”

Others said they were confused by the law — which, in addition, to banning dock rentals, greatly expands regulations governing seaside structures on both residential and commercial properties. In an attempt to clarify, Town Commissioner of Conservation and Waterways Thomas Doheny said at the outset of the hearing that his department had been working on the law, on and off, for roughly five years and that it sought to clarify the definition of waterway structures such as bulkheads, docks and boat slips and to expand the definitions for different uses.

Responding to the confusion, D’Esposito admitted that the law could be reworked, and agreed to hold hearings on it and postpone the vote. The council unanimously agreed to table the discussion, and responding to resident requests, Gillen said she would consider holding a nighttime hearing at a later date so more people could attend. Afterward she issued a statement critical of D’Esposito and the legislation, which, she said “was clearly rushed and crafted in secret without any community input.” She added, “Any new proposal that hurts working-class families — many still rebounding from Hurricane Sandy — will not have my support.”

Oceansider Andrew Bove said he agreed with the spirit of the law. “I don’t believe you should be allowed to rent your dock space,” he said. “Just because you live on the water doesn’t make it a commercial property.”

However, a different Andrew, also of Oceanside, said the legislation was a classic example of government overreach. “If the government wants to tell me what to do on my property, they can pay my mortgage and taxes for me,” he said. “Otherwise they need to back off.”