Bellmore, Merrick elected leaders adamantly against Hochul's proposed housing plan


Over the last several weeks, local elected officials have flatly refused to accept Gov. Kathy Hochul’s New York Housing Compact, calling it a “dangerous proposal” for Nassau County.

In her State of the State address, Hochul announced a housing plan, as part of her proposed 2024 executive budget, that would require municipalities like the Town of Hempstead to allow for development projects to ensure a housing growth of 3 percent over three years.

According to the governor’s website, any municipality that does not meet the growth targets would be subjected to the “fast-track approval program.” If a local government rejects a multi-family housing development, the state could override local zoning laws to permit the housing to be built in areas zoned for single-family units. 

While municipalities could attempt to fight developments, any “appealed projects will be approved unless a locality can demonstrate a valid health or safety reason for denying the application,” the website further states.

At a news conference earlier this month, town officials from Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, among several others, agreed that overdevelopment is not something Nassau County wants, nor can accommodate. Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin ex-pressed concerns over Hochul’s plan, which he said would urbanize the island’s suburban communities.

“We want local control,” Clavin said, “not Hochul control.”

Nassau County is already home to more than 478,000 housing units, according to the U.S. Census. Hochul’s plan would force roughly 14,340 additional units to be built. The Town of Hempstead’s main concern is that with Nassau already so densely populated, more housing would increase traffic, overwhelm school districts and strain local infrastructure.

Another part of the housing compact would require all communities with train stations operated by the MTA to undertake a local rezoning within a half-mile from each station, unless the area already meets the expected density level. This would allow up to 50 housing units per acre to be developed.

“By expanding housing potential in these transit-oriented communities, more families will be able to enjoy improved access to jobs and thriving sustainable communities,” the plan states.

Both Bellmore and Merrick have centrally located train stations. At a recent meeting with the South Merrick Community Civic Association, State Sen. Steve Rhoads said the plan could allow for 25,000 housing units to be built around LIRR stations.

“If there’s just one person in each of those housing units, that increases Nassau County’s population by 1.25 million people,” Rhoads said. “How does our infrastructure sustain that? How do our schools sustain that?”

Rhoads also questioned how the county’s water supply would be able to sustain such an increase in population. The state’s plan would call for an expedited environmental review process in areas being rezoned, meaning projects that could be detrimental to the environment may be rushed without proper consideration. 

Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, which mainly focuses on the preservation of North Shore waterways, said the county’s environment could be impacted, with groundwater availability posing a problem.

“We don’t have an unlimited supply,” Swenson added. “The more people you have pumping the groundwater, the more you stand the chance of having saltwater intrusion.”

Living near a train station usually encourages public transportation use, and Swenson said Hochul’s plan is built on the hope that people won’t rely on cars — but in most scenarios on Long Island, that’s not possible. 

“Anyone who knows Long Island, which she probably doesn’t, (knows) you can’t even go shopping without a car,” he said. “You’re going to need a car even when you live right near to the train station, so there are going to be more cars.”

Swenson said that housing plans such as this one should not be included in the state budget, but should be in a separate bill that can be worked on and debated among legislators. And stepping around the environmental review process, which has been in place for nearly 50 years, should not be allowed, he said.

In a guest column in last week’s issue of the Herald, Town Councilman Chris Carini, who also represents parts of Bellmore and Merrick, said Hochul’s plans would turn Nassau County into the sixth borough of New York City.

“It’s not wrong to want more housing, but it is wrong to override the power of local municipalities to push an agenda,” Carini wrote. “Local municipalities are the cornerstone for good government because they are most in tune with the concerns of the community. Ignoring the input of locals will only create pitfalls and problems for years to come.”

At the news conference earlier this month, Rhoads said that Hochul’s plan threatens Long Island’s survival as a suburb. “We will continue to fight on the state level,” he said, “and work with a growing and bipartisan coalition of county, town and village officials to block this dangerous proposal and defend our quality of life.”

Additional reporting by William Sheeline.