Amid a push to revamp its building department, the held an in-depth conference Monday at the in Port Washington, addressing the future of housing in suburbia.
About 300 people attended – government officials, realtors, architects, residents, contractors and more – with another 250 tuning in to a live webcast.
Many were there to discuss how to avoid building department fines and delays when trying to sell or improve property.
One realtor spoke of landlords unable to pay mortgages because they couldn’t begin renting, thanks to delays stemming from the building department. Others say they have run into trouble because of permitting they never realized they needed.
These scenarios were not new to Supervisor Jon Kaiman. He has spoken about the when he took office in 2004, when there was a culture where people got away with code issues.
“It became a way of doing business,” Kaiman said Monday.
In attempting to turn the department around, Kaiman said that he virtually shut it down as new policies and personnel were put in place, in order to ensure that North Hempstead properties complied with up-to-date safety standards. Yet the resulting slowdown proved frustrating for residents and business owners.
“We’ve made mistakes,” Kaiman said Monday. “We failed in many ways.”
Kaiman’s comments come at a time when the town’s former building and planning commissioner, , stands trial in Nassau County Court for conspiracy and grand larceny for allegedly steering work to a developer in 2003.
But on Monday, North Hempstead officials spoke about the building department being back on track, with 8,342 permits and certificates issued – slightly more than 2005 before the department revamp.
Still, contractors and architects willing to play by the rules face challenges.
“It makes the ones who fly under the radar more attractive,” said Ron Benkin, of East Meadow-based Alure Home Improvements, referring to contractors who encourage prospects not to file in order to cut costs.
And while working with unlicensed contractors and plumbers may save property owners money, and also taxes, property owners “run the risk” of their actions “being picked up down the road,” said Anthony DiProperzio, vice president of the Long Island Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Mitch Pally, of the Long Island Builders Institute, advised owners to “understand “what you can do before you do it,” adding it’s “better than being told you can’t do it after you do it.”
And Larry Levy, a former journalist who now heads the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said codes were not only about a building professional’s ability to earn an honest living, but also about safety.
He recalled his time covering a fire in Huntington as a reporter. “I can still smell the fire in a substandard building that never should have housed anyone,” he said.
Town officials say they want to hear from the public to make the department more user-friendly.
“I appreciate this is hard,” Kaiman said.
But continued dialog with stakeholders will make the process smoother, he said, adding, “I do think it’s a positive.”