DIS­PATCHES

Soundings - - Contents - By Kim Kavin

The town of Hemp­stead, on Long Is­land, New York, is wrestling with a con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal to re­strict the lease of pri­vate back­yard boat slips.

The town of Hemp­stead, New York, at least for the near fu­ture, is al­low­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of boat­ing as usual. But a late May meet­ing of the Town Board in this south­ern Long Is­land com­mu­nity brought ex­ten­sive me­dia at­ten­tion, mak­ing Hemp­stead the lat­est bat­tle­ground in Amer­ica be­tween boaters who have long had pri­vate slips and law­mak­ers who want to reg­u­late them.

The Hemp­stead meet­ing grew down­right fiery — with one woman break­ing down in tears and out­raged com­plaints draw­ing rau­cous gallery ap­plause — as res­i­dents de­nounced a pro­posal by Coun­cil­man An­thony D’Es­pos­ito to limit the num­ber of boat slips they can rent out be­hind their homes.

The board mem­bers tried for the bet­ter part of a half hour to ad­journ the public hear­ing and go back to the draw­ing board on the pro­posal, which so en­raged com­mu­nity mem­bers that more than 600 signed a pe­ti­tion to stop it from be­com­ing law. Res­i­dents at the meet­ing re­fused to al­low a vote on ad­journ­ing the hear­ing. They kept walk­ing up to the mi­cro­phone to be heard, one af­ter the next, whether the board mem­bers liked it or not.

“This af­fects a lot of peo­ple’s liveli­hood,” one res­i­dent said. “You act like dic­ta­tors there that think you can get away with any­thing you want, and un­less peo­ple come down en masse, you don’t re­spond.”

Sev­eral res­i­dents said they’re still try­ing to re­cover fi­nan­cially from the dev­as­ta­tion of 2011’s Hur­ri­cane Irene and 2012’s Hur­ri­cane Sandy, and that rent­ing boat slips be­hind their prop­er­ties is a lifeblood of in­come.

“These are peo­ple who got slammed by Irene and Sandy. Do you get that? You ac­cused them of cre­at­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards, dump­ing trash in the water, not fol­low­ing the rules—you and a ma­rina owner—and that’s ab­so­lutely false. I’ve lived in the vil­lage for 55 years. I know peo­ple who own homes and rent boat space. I know peo­ple with boats who rent dock space. I can’t ever re­call a sit­u­a­tion when there was a prob­lem.”

Even­tu­ally, the board voted to ad­journ the public hear­ing and re­work the pro­posal. Be­cause of the num­ber of ques­tions and con­cerns that res­i­dents raised, the town’s at­tor­ney told Sound­ings, the pro­posal has been put on hold in­def­i­nitely.

At is­sue is the way some res­i­dents earn in­come from back­yard slip rentals, a prac­tice that many home­own­ers con­sider to be their God-given right, on par with breath­ing air. The busi­ness prac­tice hap-

pens on wa­ter­fronts through­out Amer­ica, with en­tire web­sites like

dock­search.com mix­ing clas­si­fied ads for ma­rina slips and back­yard slips na­tion­wide. In Cal­i­for­nia, a pri­vate slip for a 50-footer is listed at $800 a month. In Fort Laud­erdale, Florida, pri­vate slips for 90-foot­ers are ad­ver­tised at $1,500.

The cash to be earned can be sub­stan­tial, which is why in Hemp­stead, for years, res­i­dents on the canals and wa­ter­fronts have built and rented out boat slips be­hind their homes. They of­ten use web­sites in­clus­ing Craigslist for mar­ket­ing dur­ing the prime sum­mer months.The num­ber of back­yard slips a home can squeeze in also af­fects re­sale value; one re­cent list­ing on Zil­low.com for a four-bed­room, $786,000 home in the Hemp­stead ham­let of Ocean­side touted “eight boat slips (great in­come po­ten­tial)” as a ma­jor sell­ing point.

But with the an­nual in­flux of boat-slip renters, D’Es­pos­ito says, come prob­lems for the town.

“Un­for­tu­nately, a com­mon prac­tice of rent­ing res­i­den­tial dock space or slips for boat stor­age is be­com­ing an eye­sore in our beau­ti­ful water­front com­mu­ni­ties,” he said at a news con­fer­ence that, for many res­i­dents, served as first no­ti­fi­ca­tion of his pro­posal. “This prac­tice af­fects the seren­ity of our water­front by adding noise and pol­lu­tion, ob­vi­ously a dras­tic ef­fect on our qual­ity of life.”

D’Es­pos­ito’s pro­posal would re­strict res­i­dents to one slip per 20 feet of shore­line, amend­ing town­ship Code 168, Struc­tures in Wa­ter­ways. Right now, there is no restric­tion on the to­tal num­ber of slips that a res­i­dent can have. The code re­quires res­i­dents adding a dock or bulk­head to pay a $200 ap­pli­ca­tion fee, and per­haps some ad­di­tional fees, and in some cases to work with li­censed ar­chi­tects or en­gi­neers on plan­ning, to en­sure that any in­stalled slips are sound and do not in­ter­fere with public nav­i­ga­tion of wa­ter­ways.

His pro­posal is far from the first time that a water­front com­mu­nity has sought to bal­ance boat-slip ac­tiv­ity with other con­cerns. In Michi­gan back in 2000, res­i­dents and law­mak­ers de­bated what con­sti­tutes “rea­son­able use” af­ter an in­flux of ex­tra boats showed up on pri­vate docks. In New­port, Cal­i­for­nia, in 2003, the city cracked down on over­crowded berths where res­i­dents had squeezed ex­tra boats into larger slips, cit­ing the dan­ger of a fire on one boat spread­ing too quickly to oth­ers. On Nolin River Lake in Kentucky, a landowner who tries to in­stall more than one dock can lose his per­mit to have any dock at all — for 15 years.

Those in fa­vor of lim­it­ing the num­ber of slips be­hind homes in Hemp­stead in­clude the bay con­sta­ble, who told CBS News in New York that many of the homes “were de­signed in the 1920s, very nar­row, de­signed for one boat be­hind the house. ”An­other propo--

nent of the change is Chris Squeri, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York Marine Trades As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents busi­nesses — in­clud­ing mari­nas — on Long Is­land. That or­ga­ni­za­tion worked with the town to draft the pro­posed re­vi­sion to the or­di­nance, ac­cord­ing to News­day, look­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the dif­fer­ence be­tween a res­i­den­tial and a com­mer­cial prop­erty that has to do things that home­own­ers with boat slips do not, such as in­vest­ing in train­ing and sys­tems.

Squeri de­clined to com­ment for Sound­ings. D’Es­pos­ito re­ferred all ques­tions to the town’s le­gal coun­sel, Richard Regina. Regina said the board had taken the pro­posal off its cal­en­dar, at least for now.

Hemp­stead’s Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Wa­ter­ways is look­ing at res­i­dents’ con­cerns and then plans to “sit down with our le­gal depart­ment and try to clar­ify the lan­guage,” Regina said. For now, as the sum­mer boat­ing sea­son is in high gear, Regina said the sta­tus quo will re­main: “They are go­ing to con­tinue to en­force the or­di­nance that is cur­rently in place.”

Back­yard boat slips like these in the town of Hemp­stead, New York, be­came en­twined in a dis­pute be­tween home­own­ers and a town coun­cil­man.

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