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

The councilwoman provides details.

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. 

Arguendo August 31, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Thank you, Ms. DiGiorgio, for this highly informational briefing, candor that we have rarely seen, in a format that will hopefully become the standard of communication on issues facing the community, and hopefully also extend to the RCC matter. A few questions result: - How is it that the present extent of non-conforming use (71 residential units in a commercial zone) has been allowed to be maintained "for more than 50 years"? - Beyond tax levies, to what extent and how will the community (as opposed to solely the owners) benefit from the improved ability to rent, sell and otherwise monetize that comes with approved mixed zoning? Thanks for your diligent work on this and other matters.
Diane Pape August 31, 2012 at 09:24 PM
This is a "pie in the sky" wish list nothing will happen on Main Street until a merchant can get an affordable rent. No merchant ever utilized parking space on Main Street preventing cutomers from parking and entering the establishment where did you get that information? This plan is a ton of political babble its about affordable rents with affordable rents the rest of Main Street will work itself out..
Local Resident September 01, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I do not think decreasing density is really an issue...I think the main issue is allowing such significant increased density in an already dense part of town. How is it proposed that an owner of a mid-block property is to provide on-site parking? If parking is to be accessed from the back of the property, is the parking accessed by crossing over a neighboring property? I doubt the current, legal parking requirements could be achieved, and I would guess such arrangements would be logistical and legal nightmares. Initially, it seems that this type of parking proposal would encourage consolidation of property ownership so one owner could develop entire blocks on Main Street. How would this parking scenario be addressed / resolved? (It seems that a revisiting of the shot down parking garage is just around the corner.) From a design perspective, my understanding from above is that the Town Board would now be judging developments from an aesthetic perspective? Seems like an awkward situation. Developers usually go the most cost effective route, which in this case would very much be the cookie-cutter scenario. The Town Board would make this aesthetic decision? Also, why did the ToNH take this from RFMBPW? Or did RFMBPW not want to be head of this ship any longer?
bthebest September 01, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Main street could definitely use some updating, but having said that...at what cost? There are vacancies because the rents are so high & the rents are so high because the commercial property taxes are out of control. A small building on the blvd. who's taxes were $20,000 increased to $26,000 in one year! a 30% increase in one year? The property owners do not have a choice but to pass on the increase to the tenants. Once again such high property taxes have resulted in decreased value in the property. As far as allowing buildings on main street to add residential use space: Have you experienced parking on Main st @ lunch time? or anytime? How can it be required by the TONH for a landlord to provide parking for each residential unit when the space just isn't there? It seems like the Town has an ulterior motive and that would be to "reintroduce the parking facility proposal" and again "at what cost?"
ekim September 01, 2012 at 12:51 PM
These apartments will be loaded with undocumented aliens. Who else is going to live on top of a store on Main Street?
Local Resident September 01, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Done correctly, nicely renovated apartments could be attractive to a number of demographics. However, I feel that whoever ultimately resides in the apartments is completely irrelevent and besides the point. It's the increased density without a solid parking / traffic plan that is the real issue. In addition, why are we providing incentives to property owners who have allowed their properties to deteriorate to such extreme levels (ie: Shields property) or in the case of 42 Main Street has not had a floor for many years?
Local Resident September 07, 2012 at 12:35 PM
This all sounds like a repeat of the proposal presented last November by RFMBPW, the same proposal that was met with a lot of criticism from local residents. How many times does it need to be said? WE DO NOT WANT MAIN STREET REZONED! It not "apprehension" or "fear"...traffic and parking is already a problem on Main Street, and increased density does not improve the EXISTING SITUATION. Separate beautification from rezoning, and fIgure out the traffic, parking and the eyesore referred to as the "Shields Property", then come back to us with proposals that benefit the property owners.
GM September 07, 2012 at 02:51 PM
It is unfortunate that as the rest of NY and the country are looking to replace cars with healthy alternative transportation methods like safe bicycle routes, walking and eco-minded mass transportation we are burdened with making way for more cars...
Local Resident September 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM
At last November's presentation, opening remarks by members of RFMBPW said the model blocks proposal was not part of a political agenda. We did not buy it then and certainly are not buying it now. Clearly this proposal is (and has been from the beginning) very much political in that the ToNH has now taken over this proposal. RFMBPW has to be feeling the heat on this as they are requiring attendance by their Board of Directors at the Sept. 20 presentation. They are also suggesting that all members send emails to the ToNH supporting the Model Blocks Program, Main Street Revisioning, or whatever they are now calling this poorly designed, repackaged proposal. If you are against increased density, increased traffic and additional parking problems on the already most congested part of Main Street, I suggest all residents of Port Washington who are against the rezoning of Main Street do the same...email your elected officials and let them know that you do not support this proposal.
Local Resident September 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM
And if possible, attend next Thursday's (Sept. 20) presentation.
Local Resident September 17, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Couldn't move on Main Street either Friday or Saturday, really looking forward to more density, traffic and parking issues.
Local Resident September 17, 2012 at 12:43 PM
re: Nassau Taxpayer 10:53 am on Friday, September 7, 2012 Why subsidize Main Street landlords? How about RESIDENTS? This is an interesting question...from what I understand, ToNH has already subsidized RESIDENTS (for a More Beautiful Port Washington). If you are referring to RESIDENTS (of Port Washington), I could use a subsidy to improve my property. I need a new roof, an exterior paint job and some new windows.
Love My Town September 17, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I think it has been almost a year that a deal for the Shield's property went through. Environmental testing followed by it's take-down, to be made into a 35 car merchant parking lot was to happen by now. What has happened to that promise? Although it's been asked about, we haven't been told anything! Employees of local merchants on Main Street have taken to parking on adjoining RESIDENTIAL STREETS ALL DAY, IN CLEAR VIOLATION OF 90 MINUTE PARKING. This is happening in sight of a municipal lot with open metered spaces are available to them. Not only Main Street is packed but the side roads are packed too! The first things to fix on Main Street is PARKING and TRAFFIC. The ToNH thinks that the solution for parking on Main Street, is to only require 1 space per apartment on site, without the requirement for additional required spaces for the business in that location. This can only add to the existing problem NOT HELP IT! The fact is, that the re- zoning does not comply with the existing codes to prevent over density. The Town is going to encourage increased density, allowing the parking / traffic problems to get worse.
Local Resident September 17, 2012 at 04:29 PM
agreed. It is not the existing, non-complying properties that at issue...these properties are already there. And I agree, the owners knew the properties were non-compliant before they bought them so why are we ("r"esidents) getting screwed. My issue, is that the rezoning that will allow all other properties on Upper Main Street to build up to 3 or 4 floors (whatever the case may now be). This additional (over) development will add significantly to the already dense density of the area. Furthermore, if I understand the latest proposal correctly, the current non-compliant buildings will still be non-compliant after the rezoning due to height restrictions. The last Model Blocks proposal allowed for 3-stories. There are currently non-conforming buildings on Main Street that are taller than 3-stories. So, how can these existing buildings be conforming when they are already taller than the new, proposed height restrictions?
Local Resident September 17, 2012 at 05:21 PM
According to a recent Patch.com article, the Shield's Property is a dead deal for the time being... http://portwashington.patch.com/articles/update-shields-building-f2ae3e90 So merchants will continue to take spots on neighboring streets.
Leslie September 17, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I am concerned that the Town Board will have the final decision making ability. What if one of the property owners have a relationship with someone on the Town Board. Would that skew their decision?

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