Building department changes, master plan updates coming soon: DeSena

Building department changes, master plan updates coming soon: DeSena
North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena shares updates on the town's building department and master plan at a Great Neck Chamber of Commerce breakfast. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena told a group of business owners at a Great Neck Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Thursday that changes to the town’s building department and updates on a new master plan will be provided “soon.”

But DeSena said she believed there have been positive signs since the Nassau County Comptroller’s Office released a department audit in February.

“A lot of people have told me that they are finding that people are more responsive,” DeSena said. “And I believe it is because this audit confirms some of the things I had said, that there was not appropriate management going on and that we can do better. We owe our residents better.”

The Town of North Hempstead’s Building Department has been criticized for many years for poor service, including long delays in issuing permits and was a focus of DeSena’s first campaign.

In July 2022, DeSena asked the Nassau County Comptroller’s Office to conduct an audit of the town’s building department.

Findings in the audit released in February include “significant problems” with the department’s online permit portal that underutilized software features, a lack of standardized procedures and operational oversight leading to operational inefficiencies, a lack of communication and transparency with permit applicants, and a lack of standardization for permit expedition procedures.

DeSena said she planned to announce specific changes in the building department this summer but was not prepared to commit to such things as adding one or more inspectors until changes to department processes identified in the audio were corrected.

She said she understood that the department’s performance hurt the town.

“It became a less friendly place to do business,” DeSena said.

She said the town is going in the direction of promoting a “business-friendly environment” by changing its building department.

One business owner suggested using advocates in the building department to expedite the permit process.

DeSena shot down the idea of an advocate, saying it had been done previously and was not always efficient. She said the advocates in the past made more work for the building commissioner.

When asked whether the building department would be able to add more staff or expeditors to speed up processes, DeSena said it first needs to evaluate its current employees.

With multiple review steps in the process, DeSena said it is worth evaluating how these different steps can be done simultaneously to save time.

DeSena said the goal should not be to hire expeditors but to improve services so that expeditors and their associated costs are not needed. She said some are still working in the town’s building department.

“This is a service we are supposed to be providing,” DeSena said. “So why should some be able to pay extra and get their service faster?”

Future announcements will also be made for the town’s updated master plan.

North Hempstead has not updated its master plan in more than 30 years. The last one created also did not include villages.

DeSena said the request for a proposal to hire a professional to create the master plan would be released “soon” but could not provide any dates or status of the plan.

She said creating a master plan will take more than a year.

DeSena also stressed the importance of downtowns, applauding businesses and their tactics to persevere like those made in response to the pandemic.

But with downtowns throughout the town, she touted a “one town approach” in its projects and initiatives. This means enacting changes at a town-wide level, not just through individual districts.

“They are downtowns all around the Town of North Hempstead,” DeSena said. “So we want to make sure everyone is being attended to.”

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