Russell Gardens trustees spike fees for zoning appeal

Russell Gardens trustees spike fees for zoning appeal
Mayor Steven Kirschner argued that the change to the appeal fees is a matter of fairness for the village. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Russell Gardens trustees voted to substantially raise the cost of an appeal on Thursday night, citing high costs to the village from legal fees and transcription services.

It previously cost $150 for the owners of any property to appeal for a variance before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Now it will cost $1,000 for a residential property owner and $2,500 for non-residential and commercial properties.

“Since it’s the applicant who’s looking to say ‘I have a special requirement,’ necessitating a variance from the law, then we feel that the applicant should bear the cost of what it takes to hold a hearing,” Mayor Steven Kirschner said. “It’s not like this is a money maker for us. It’s not. It’s really just to cover our expenses.”

Some residents questioned aspects of the law. One man asked why the village wouldn’t simply bill the individual applicant or put a lien on their property.

Kirschner said changing the fees is “easier for the village” and that he doesn’t want the village to “wait for the money.”

“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think the village should have to wait for money, I don’t think the village should lay out any money,” Kirschner responded.

Mitchell Pitnick, a Russell Gardens resident and counsel for Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, said he understood fees haven’t increased since at least 1991 and that $1,000 for something large like home reconstruction would be understandable.

But it would be “not proportionate” for someone seeking a variance for something smaller like the construction of a fence or installing a backyard barbeque that was within a setback, Pitnick said.

“It seems excessive that $1,000 would be the fee for that, where they may also be denied in the end,” Pitnick said.

Kirschner said the law’s a question of fairness for the village, arguing that these appeals are costly, due to transcription services and potentially needing lawyers, and currently being “subsidized” by other residents.

“…I don’t think it’s fair for the village – and this has been going on for a number of years, this wasn’t just because of these two hearings,” Kirschner said, referencing to recent zoning hearings that cost about $2,000. “We’ve had hearings before from zoning where the applicants and the village, every time someone filed an appeal, we were eating a lot of money.”

Pitnick said he understands that expenses need to be paid, but argued there may be situations where neighbors don’t find a change unacceptable and suggested having a smaller fee of $300 or $250 for appeals so “it’s still an increase from what it is.”

He also said the law as described seems more like a “penalty” meant to “dissuade homeowners” from seeking variances.

Kirschner reiterated the need to pay village expenses, said “it’s not a penalty” and that he would explain the rationale of the law to anyone who asked him.

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