Hempstead Ave. homeowners challenge building freeze, take matter to court
By: Ben Strack
The latest plans for the property adjacent to St. Mark’s United Methodist Church remain halted by a six-month moratorium enacted by the village last month to pause construction on properties that front private roads. But the homeowners have challenged that the building suspension does not apply to them.
Chris Browne, an attorney representing Jim and Brett O’Reilly, owners of the property at 220 Hempstead Avenue that are seeking to subdivide the land into four single-family dwellings, called the moratorium “a political attack” on his clients’ property rights during a proceeding at Nassau County Supreme Court on July 24 in front of Judge John Galasso.
He argued that Killarney Lane — the road that would give access to the two houses planned for the back of the property — was proposed as a public street to be donated to the village. The O’Reillys were denied a variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals in June because the back two homes did not have the required 80 feet of frontage on a private road. A few days after the moratorium was passed, 4-1, by the village board on July 10, Browne applied for a preliminary injunction against the building suspension.
A. Thomas Levin, who is representing the village, acknowledged in court that the O’Reillys’ application spurred the village to “look at their codes with respect to private streets,” and said at the time that it had not determined whether the moratorium applied specifically to that potential project.
“…What is being accomplished by stopping the process?” Browne told the Herald after the meeting, adding that it is the village planning board’s job to decide on the subdivision. “And we don’t even know if they are stopping the process.”
But Levin said on Monday that the village decided the moratorium does apply to 220 Hempstead Ave., and denied the O’Reillys’ most recent revised application, which again called for four single-family homes, and, by adding curb strips that run along Killarney Lane, was zoning compliant, according to Browne.
A letter from Patrick O’Brien, superintendent of the village’s building department, to Browne, dated July 28, said that Killarney Lane is not considered public, despite its intended dedication to the village, or the public’s potential use of the road, and denied his request that the application be passed on the village’s planning board.
O’Brien added that Browne’s clients could appeal the determination, or seek a variance from the zoning board, but that it would not be considered until the end of the moratorium.
Browne claimed in court that the village is trying to “placate community opposition” after many residents in recent months spoke out against the proposed demolition of the 19th-century home on the property and its subdivision at zoning board meetings. Some also created online petitions and Facebook pages and made efforts to preserve the home as a historical landmark. He said that the village and the O’Reillys have been discussing these plans, both formally and informally, for at least a year.
“It wasn’t until all those things happened that suddenly the village said they were very concerned about the threat of private roads in Rockville Centre,” Browne said. “…You can’t just say, well we’re concerned about ‘X’ so we’ll get back to you. I could be concerned that the Earth is going to crash into the sun. Just the fact that you say you’re concerned doesn’t make it a valid or reasonable concern.”
But Levin asserted in court that the village simply wants to “freeze the status quo” in order to diligently review the issue. “Anything that’s happened in this case has been based on the application of the law, and not anything political or whatever the community wants to have,” Levin said.
He added that there are other large properties in the village similar to 220 Hempstead Ave., which could pose similar issues regarding private roads. Such streets cannot be maintained by the village — in terms of fixing a pothole or plowing snow, for example — which sometimes leads to angry residents. He also mentioned that private roads must be safe for first responders to navigate in the case of an emergency.
“We’re looking at this whole thing saying that these are all these headaches down the road,” Levin said. “What can we do today to make sure that we’re not going to have these headaches down the road and make sure that everybody is protected?”
Along with the injunction, Browne, as part of the overall court filing, is challenging the zoning board’s variance denial. Levin had said at press time that the village was putting together opposition papers to be submitted in court Wednesday, and that additional documents from the plaintiff are due on Aug. 11. Both sides said they were unsure when a decision would be made.