The Hempstead Town Board recently approved a sweeping rezoning of portions of North Lawrence and Inwood that are designed to encourage mixed-use, commercial and transit-oriented developments. This rezoning initiative, which was spearheaded by Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, hopes to transform derelict areas north of the Lawrence and Inwood Long Island Rail Road stations into walkable, affordable neighborhoods filled with hundreds of new apartments.
The new legislation, codified in Building Zone Ordinance (BZO) §§ 432, 433 and 434, creates three new zoning districts – a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) District, a Neighborhood Business (NB) Overlay District and a Residential Townhouse/Rowhouse (TR) Overlay District. The vision behind each of these districts is to create vibrant hamlet centers, each with a distinctive sense of place.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) District
The TOD District is divided into 10 sub-districts that cover over 20 acres of land north of the Lawrence and Inwood LIRR stations. In creating a TOD District, the Town seeks to encourage a mix of building types and uses and diverse housing options that will create and sustain vibrant, attractive and economically flourishing hamlet areas in a portion of the town that is characterized by industrial and manufacturing uses.
The TOD District permits multi-family and mixed-use developments in buildings of up to five stories or 60 feet in height. Developments within the district can have a residential density of up to 60 units per acre, and those containing at least five residential units must designate at least 20% of the units as “workforce housing.” Workforce housing units in this district must be affordable to families earning no more than 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the Nassau-Suffolk, NY HUD Metro FMR Area. The rent for these units may not exceed 30% of the combined annual gross income of all persons living in the household.
In a slide presentation made by the Town’s planning consultant, it is projected that 336 new residential units and 19,500 square feet of retail and commercial space will be developed in the North Lawrence TOD District over the next three years. In the Inwood TOD District, the three-year projection is for 232 new housing units and 5,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
Neighborhood Business (NB) Overlay District
The NB Overlay District applies to about 19 acres located along Lawrence Avenue between Wasner Avenue and Mott Avenue in North Lawrence, and along Dougherty Boulevard between Bayview Avenue and Mott Avenue in Inwood. Its goal is to create “main streets” along these roads by encouraging mixed-use developments that incorporate housing and commercial uses in a walkable environment.
The NB Overlay District permits multi-family and mixed-use developments in buildings of up to three stories or 35 feet in height. The allowable residential density is up to 24 units per acre. Buildings containing at least five residential units must designate at least 10% of the units as workforce housing that is affordable to families earning no more than 80% of the AMI.
Residential Townhouse/Rowhouse (TR) Overlay District
The TR Overlay District covers the largest area – about 33.7 acres of mostly residentially-zoned property located north of the railroad tracks and east and west of Nassau Expressway. The primary goal of this district is to implement planning and design guidelines that will provide a variety of new housing opportunities within existing neighborhoods to support a vibrant and sustainable residential community.
The permitted uses in the TR Overlay District are limited to single-family attached dwellings on lots of at least 15,000 square feet, and at a maximum density of up to 15 units per acre. The allowable height in this district is up to three stories or 35 feet. Buildings containing at least five residential units must designate at least 10% of the units as workforce housing that is affordable to families earning no more than 100% of the AMI.
Expedited Entitlement Process
Applicants proposing developments that comply with the applicable use and dimensional requirements in the three new districts will qualify for an expedited approval process that bypasses the Town’s site plan review process that is typically required prior to the issuance of a building permit. Projects in the new districts are reviewed by a Town-appointed Design Review Committee (DRC) to ensure that they meet the applicable design guidelines and site requirements. If the DRC determines that a submission is fully-compliant with the requirements, it will submit a written recommendation to the Department of Buildings indicating that the project is exempt from the site plan process. Although projects must still be reviewed by the Town’s Engineering Department, Highway Department and Department of Conservation and Waterways prior to the issuance of a building permit, this expedited approval process is expected to reduce the time to obtain a building permit by several months or even years.
Given the proximity of these areas to the Lawrence and Inwood LIRR stations, the zoning changes recently adopted by the Town make perfect sense from a planning perspective. Moreover, the expedited review process will undoubtedly be welcomed by developers who typically must endure a series of lengthy and burdensome entitlement processes before they can put a shovel in the ground. The Town should be applauded for its vision and its efforts, but only time will tell if the new law is enough to incentivize private investment in these areas.