Pictured Above: Governor Kathy Hochul at a 2018 opening ceremony for the Peconic Crossing workforce housing complex in Riverhead, when she was Lieutenant Governor.
New York governor Kathy Hochul has nixed a controversial provision in her new budget that would require municipalities to allow accessory housing units, which had Long Island lawmakers and environmentalists squeamish throughout much of February.
Ms. Hochul announced the proposal in her Jan. 5 State of the State Address, as part of a plan to initiate a $25 billion five-year housing plan to “create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes statewide, increase construction of new homes, and tackle inequities in the housing market.”
The proposal for accessory housing, called Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs in the governor’s proposal, would have required municipalities to allow a minimum of one ADU on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots. According to the governor’s office, municipalities would have been allowed to set their own size requirements and safety standards for the dwellings. A similar law was enacted in California, another state burdened with an affordable housing crisis, in 2020.
Ms. Hochul pulled the ADU portion of the proposal from the budget on Feb. 18, though the remainder of her housing plan remains in effect.
“I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach on accessory dwelling units and transit-oriented development, and I understand that my colleagues in the State Senate believe a different set of tools is needed, even if they agree with the goal of supporting the growth of this kind of housing,” she said in a prepared statement. “So, I am submitting a 30-day amendment to my budget legislation that removes requirements on localities in order to facilitate a conversation about how we build consensus around solutions.”
On the East End, where most local governments already have poorly utilized accessory housing unit codes, the hubbub came from all sides, with environmentalists worried about the effect such codes could have on ground and surface waters, lawmakers of all stripes saying it violated the state’s longstanding home rule powers over local zoning that are allotted to local
governments, and Republicans seeing it is a blatant attempt to appeal to the far left.
South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, long a champion of the environment and the architect of the newly proposed Community Housing Fund up for public referendum this fall, didn’t mince words about his opposition to the proposal in a Feb. 10 Environmental Round Table organized by State Senator Anthony Palumbo, of the North Fork.
“There are a lot of good things in Governor Hochul’s budget. This is not one of them,” he told the environmentalists gathered for the Zoom environmental forum. “It’s a major invasion of local home rule law.”
Mr. Thiele added that he believes government needs to provide incentives for affordable housing, not mandates, and that the most difficult part of accessory housing on the South Fork is getting people to build the units legally.
“We need more housing. If we want people to do things, we need to give them incentives,” he said.
Kevin MacDonald, the Conservation Project Director for Public Lands at The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, said at the environmental roundtable he believes accessory dwelling units “need to be thoughtfully reviewed,” and added that they could double the impact of developed residential properties on the environment
North Fork State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio of Riverhead also expressed her distaste for the governor’s take on accessory dwelling units, which she said would be detrimental to the groundwater.
She joined with numerous Republican state legislators for a Feb. 9 press conference denouncing the governor’s proposal.
“The North Fork already struggles with the issue of code enforcement being unable to enforce rental laws,” she said. “Quality of life will be sacrificed by many Long Islanders as corporations buy these multi-family units in our residential neighborhoods. I dread to think of how they will take advantage of this policy. ADUs present no solutions to overpopulation in the cities, but instead transfer that issue to the suburban region on Long Island. And because Long Island is not equipped for that level of population influx, we’re going to see a slew of tax hikes, utility rate spikes, and the potential for rent control dangers.”
“Civic maintenance costs will spike. The environment will suffer as sewers are not available to connect to which will lead to further water pollution,” she added. “The need for additional sanitation workers will increase as the garbage output increases. School districts will be overflowing, requiring build-outs and an increase in staffing, resulting in a rise in property taxes.”
“It removes a lot of local discretion,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell at a Feb. 15 Southold Town Board work session. “Ironically, Southold has liberalized our accessory apartment law so much that we probably comply with a lot of this right out of the gate, but it is a philosophical issue with regard to home rule.”
He added that the governor’s proposal would have allowed these units much closer to lot lines of properties than Southold Town does currently, and would also require that “local governments shall not require additional or amended certificates of occupancy” for these units.
“That’s in conflict” with Southold’s existing rules, he said. “It doesn’t allow us to say no.”
“It doesn’t allow for groundwater protection,” he added.
“This throws away our town code. It throws away our master plan,” agreed Councilwoman Jill Doherty. “We’re all for affordable housing, but this is not well written.”
In one of many installments of his campaign to scare New Yorkers away from Democrats, East End Congressman Lee Zeldin, the presumptive Republican candidate for New York governor this fall, slammed what he called Hochul’s “plan to effectively eliminate single family housing” in a Feb. 3 press release.
“This blatant attack on suburban communities will end single family housing as we know it, strip local control away from the New Yorkers who live there, tank the value of their homes, overcrowd their previously quiet streets, and, on top of it all, not do anything to solve our affordable housing problems,” he said. “Kathy Hochul isn’t focused on real solutions. She’s entirely obsessed with trying to win over far-left Democratic Party primary voters at the expense of everyday New Yorkers, and this plan is just the latest example of these boneheaded proposals. This policy absolutely must not pass and one-party rule in Albany must end as fast as possible.”
He again bludgeoned the governor after she withdrew the proposal.
“Our success forcing her to withdraw her terrible proposal is a step forward,” he said. “Next, we fire her at the polls on November 8!”
To be clear, Ms. Hochul’s proposal didn’t mandate that the accessory dwelling buildings be built — it would have mandated that governments allow them.