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Second public hearing on proposed moratorium on waterfront structures set for January 17

Village by: Chrissy Ruggeri, January 14, 2023

The proposed Northport Village waterfront structure moratorium would suspend the approval of all dock applications submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals for one year.

The first of two public hearings regarding the proposed moratorium on approval of waterfront structures within the Village of Northport was held December 20 at Northport Village Hall; the second hearing will take place this Tuesday, January 17, at 6pm.

Last month’s hearing involved a spirited debate on whether or not the Village board should approve a one-year suspension on applications for “construction, modification, alteration, or enlargement of any building or structure located within twenty feet of the mean high-water mark of Northport Harbor.”

Mayor Donna Koch explained the reasoning behind the proposed law at the meeting: “We are looking at legislation to put a moratorium on docks in the Village so that we can get a handle on exactly what’s there, what people are proposing, and how we want to move forward with those docks,” she said. The suspension would not apply to bulkheads, she added, because there are applications in front of the Village for bulkhead repairs.

The moratorium was requested by Andy Cangemi, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) chairman, who said he’s been working on getting this in place for almost a year. He explained that the ZBA has several applications in front of them with requests to build extensive docks. Cangemi discussed one resident in particular, who currently has two applications filed with the ZBA – one requesting a 200-foot dock, and another modified application requesting a dock just under 100 feet long.

“We gotta get a handle on what’s going on inside our harbor,” Cangemi said. “I don't know, at this point, if any of the applications cross areas where there may be oysters, muscles, kelp, whatever there is…we have no idea what’s in our harbor.”

Cangemi suggested that the Village approve a moratorium so it can conduct a comprehensive study of the harbor “in order to figure out what we’re doing and what this is going to look like in the future,” he said. “This may be our one and only opportunity, in the next 50 years, to take a look at this and dictate what we think the harbor should look like.”

The Village’s comprehensive plan to address these concerns is in motion, Cangemi added; the ZBA has interviewed engineering organizations and requested proposals to determine what needs to be done and by whom, and what it may cost. “It’s going to take us at least a year to figure this out. It may take even longer, but we need to figure this out now, while these applications are in front of us,” he explained.

Cangemi mentioned the two applications for the same piece of property, 229 Woodbine Avenue, frequently during the public hearing. He questioned why the original application request for a 200-foot dock, which was submitted to the ZBA over a year ago and underwent a public hearing last March (Mayor Koch had just taken office), was later reduced to a 100-foot dock, and noted that pending applications like these could be put on hold if a moratorium is passed. No other specific applications were addressed during the hearing and the exact number of applications currently in front of the ZBA was not disclosed.

Taylor Sturm, an associate scientist at B. Laing Associates representing the homeowner at 229 Woodbine Avenue, explained that the application was modified because they were able to change plans after getting a variance from the Department of Conservation allowing for a shorter dock with no environmental impact. “This is all above board,” he said. “This is all completely to the code of Northport.”

Sturm also pointed out that the proposed moratorium law, as written, does not suspend all dock applications specifically, but includes any structures within twenty feet of the harbor’s high-water mark. “Where is the thought put into this text?” he questioned. “This is something, in my opinion, that seems to have been rushed through a little bit in response to some individual applications, and are put together by boards that, ironically, don’t seem to be wholly familiar with the notion of waterfront development.”

In response, Cangemi said, “It’s the zoning board that interprets the zoning legislation…I wasn’t involved in drafting it. I’ll interpret it, and our board will interpret it, the way that makes the most common sense.”

Ed Carr, a licensed marine engineer, environmental consultant and former maritime director in the Town of Huntington explained that residents have riparian rights that allow homeowners to have docks providing access to water, and they’re not supposed to be infringed on. Carr said that applications submitted to the ZBA have already gone through four agencies to ensure they meet a specific standard. “There’s very little discretion that the ZBA will have,” he noted.

Carr explained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers verifies that a structure won’t impede navigation, the Department of Conservation ensures that it won’t have an adverse environmental impact, then the NYS Department of State verifies “coastal consistency,” followed by the Town of Huntington board of trustees, which evaluates potential navigation issues in the town with help from the harbormaster. Applicants then come to the Northport Village ZBA. “You’re going through a very strict filter,” Carr noted, and added that the Village may be faced with litigation if the ZBA denies applications that meet the standardization that’s in place with these agencies.

Cangemi said that when these applications go through the four channels prior to the ZBA, they are “subject to local jurisdiction,” allowing the zoning board to make a final decision without fear of litigation. He also noted that riparian rights refer to a resident’s right to have access to the water, which can be done without a dock via float, dingy or rowboat.

The December 20 public hearing can be viewed here. The final public hearing on this proposed law will take place on Tuesday, January 17 at 6pm in Northport Village Hall; the Board of Trustees is expected to vote on its approval after the hearing. Below is the full proposed law.

PROPOSED LOCAL LAW “G” of 2022 A LOCAL LAW

ENACTING A MORATORIUM ON APPROVAL OF WATERFRONT STRUCTURES WITHIN THE VILLAGE OF NORTHPORT

Section 1. Legislative intent and purpose.
The Board of Trustees of the Village of Northport (“Board of Trustees”) finds that there has been a recent proliferation of new and proposed development along the waterfront in the Village of Northport (the “Village”). Certain development, if left unchecked, poses the threat of permanent negative effect upon the Village’s waterfront in the form of degraded views and diminishment of the use and enjoyment of the waterfront by residents and members of the public, among others.

The Village is currently considering updating its Comprehensive Plan and the Board of Trustees finds that it will be in the best interests of the Village, its residents, and the public at large to impose a moratorium with respect to applications for and approvals of certain development on or in close proximity to the waterfront.

Section 2. Moratorium on applications and approvals.
From and after the effective date of this law, and continuing for a period of time set forth hereinafter, no application shall be accepted or processed, nor shall any permit or approval be issued, by the Board of Trustees, the Village of Northport Zoning Board of Appeals, or any other board, department, officer or employee of the Village, calling for the construction, modification, alteration, or enlargement of any building or structure located within twenty (20) feet of the mean high-water mark of Northport Harbor. The foregoing prohibition shall not apply to an extension of a period of time to complete a building or structure for which a building permit was duly issued by the Village Building Department prior to the effective date of this law.

Section 3: Effect on pending applications.
Pending applications for construction activities relating to any building or structure covered by the moratorium for which a public hearing has been held before any Village board are exempt from the provisions of this moratorium. All other applications shall be suspended until such time as the moratorium expires or is otherwise terminated.

Section 4. Duration of moratorium.
(a) The moratorium established pursuant to this law shall be effective until and including the date twelve months from the date this law is duly adopted by the Board of Trustees, unless sooner terminated as provided herein.
(b)Notwithstanding the preceding subsection, the Board of Trustees may, by resolution adopted by a majority of its members, extend the duration of the moratorium provided for herein for not more than one period of six months each.
(c) Notwithstanding subsections (a) and (b), the Board of Trustees may, by resolution adopted by a majority of its members, terminate the moratorium enacted by this law at any time prior to its expiration, or expiration of any extension.

Section 5. Hardship.
An owner of property who believes that the provisions of this law has caused, or will cause, such owner to suffer severe financial hardship or result in significant and irreparable damage to real property, may apply for relief to the Board of Trustees which, after a public hearing, may relieve the applicant from the moratorium, in whole or in part. The existence of severe financial hardship shall be demonstrated in the same manner and upon the same quality of proof as would be required for a use variance.

Section 6. Severability.
If any section, paragraph, sentence, clause or part of this local law shall be adjudged invalid or unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, then such adjudication shall not affect the validity of the local law as a whole or any section, paragraph, sentence, clause or part thereof not so adjudged invalid or unconstitutional it being the express intent of the Board of Trustees that said remaining section(s), paragraph(s), sentence(s), clause(s) or part(s) should continue in full force and effect notwithstanding.

Section 7. Effective date.
This local law shall take effect immediately upon filing with the Office of the Secretary of State.