By Anessa V. Cohen
When many of us moved into some of the Five Towns neighborhoods, the Town of Hempstead’s regulations for home extensions were not major considerations. Up until just a few years ago, the rule of thumb for areas regulated by the town was that 30% of your lot size was the maximum footprint allowable without filing for a variance. Homeowners considered this when planning expansions of an existing dwelling or when building a new home.
A “footprint” is the base level (this could mean a foundation, basement, or first floor when building on slab) before building up to a possible second floor (or more). So for instance, if you had a property that had a 60’ × 100’ lot size, the allowable (maximum) footprint without a variance for you to build on this property would be 30% of 6,000 square feet, or 1,800 square feet. This means that the maximum space allowable, including porches, decks, garages, sheds, or any other outer buildings on that property’s footprint, would be 1,800 square feet. This was a nice amount of space when utilizing a 60’ × 100’ lot or larger.
Several years ago, some of the powers that be in the Town of Hempstead decided they did not want people building so much on their properties, and they changed the regulations to 27.5% of your lot size as the new maximum allowable footprint. This effectively took away 150 square feet of building space from that 1,800-square-foot footprint on our sample 60’ × 100’ lot. Homeowners in the town-regulated portion of the Five Towns area lost the ability to fully utilize this extra square footage that had been taken for granted for as long as anyone remembers. But areas within incorporated villages are not subject to the town rules. So the Village of Cedarhurst, which did not change the 30% footprint for homeowners, now has plots of land that hold more value than the lots in the unincorporated areas in the Town of Hempstead. More can be built on Village of Cedarhurst land plots due to the 30% rule than can be built on those plots subject to the 27.5% rule. (Some of the other villages, like Woodsburgh, Hewlett Harbor, and Hewlett Neck are also not subject to the town’s rules but have large lot sizes with more rules put in from their own villages.)
There is an interesting aftereffect of the reduction from the 30% to 27.5% footprint rule instituted by the Town of Hempstead. Amongst the home sales each year of older homes, there are always those that are discovered with structures thought to be legal for 30, 40, or even 50 years. Some homes fall through the cracks either because they were not registered properly when the structures were built many years ago or because of different rules in years past. They were never added to the certificate of occupancies when everything was written by hand and filed manually after they were built by the builders.
In years past, when the 30% rule was in effect, it was easy to rectify these errors by obtaining permits to correct past errors, legalizing whatever was missing and moving ahead. Although most of these errors occurred many years ago, the 30% rule was still used at that time, so usually the footprint was not a problem. The offending illegal structure—usually a deck, porch, shed or other outer structure—could be legalized through the permit process.
Today, with the 27.5% footprint rule, these older structures are now involved in costly and endless filings to rectify errors that the owners did not even know existed. Most of these problems are falling into that 27.5%–30% footprint gap created when the town changed the rule. Homeowners must hire architects and lawyers to file for expensive variances to legalize these structures, many of which were purchased in their existing state, the homeowner never being made aware of their problematic nature.
There has been plenty of grumbling since this law changed. Especially now with homeowners trying to repair and rebuild after Sandy, a new effort should be made to put pressure on the Town of Hempstead to repeal this footprint regulation of 27.5% and revert to the 30% footprint. This would be more consistent with the rest of the Five Towns. It also allows homeowners some breathing room to not only repair their homes, but to check and rectify any possible outside structures that were unknowingly not legalized previously. It also leaves available that extra 2.5% of footprint area for those who would like to make small additions to the main floor of their homes. Many dens or offices that were in basements were flooded. There is a need to take living space from those basements and bring them up to the main levels.
This is the time to send your letters and e‑mails to Town of Hempstead elected officials, voice your distress, and pressure them to revert to the 30% footprint rule. Obviously they made this change to bring more monies into the town’s coffers, but this is a financial burden on the backs of already highly taxed homeowners, and the officials need to hear from those homeowners of their outrage over this situation. v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.