Old Westbury passes wall amendment, introduces law intended to ease resident access to new legislation

Old Westbury passes wall amendment, introduces law intended to ease resident access to new legislation
Village of Old Westbury residents Mike Khorrami (right) and Myron St. Wecker were among the few residents who attended and participated in a public hearing Tuesday. (Photo by Teri West)

The Village of Old Westbury Board of Trustees passed a law that more closely regulates retaining walls and introduced another requiring all pending legislation to be posted on the village website at its meeting Tuesday night. 

The introduction of and eventual vote on the latter motion came in the middle of an often heated hour-long public hearing before the Board of Trustees about the wall amendment.

Trustee Leslie Fastenberg seemingly spontaneously dictated the new law.

“There is no reason that anything that we are doing should not be available to every resident, particularly when we are trying to introduce new code that’s going to impact people,” she said. “That’s the way to encourage participation.”

Resident Mikel Eisenberg was the first to raise concern about a lack of transparency. He had urged the board to postpone a vote on the wall amendment in September so as to give the village time to alert residents of the potential change but said that most residents still are unaware of the changes.

Myron St. Wecker, a resident at the meeting who said he attends them “just because I’ve lived in the village for nearly 50 years,” said that he had to go through the process of submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to view the retaining wall amendment in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.

After hearing such remarks, the Board of Trustees, with Trustee Edward Novick absent, unanimously approved the introduction of the local law, which will now be voted on in February.

The majority of the requirements in the retaining wall law that passed pertain to the construction of new walls, creating procedures for applying for permits and regulations about structure and aesthetics.

The Planning Board subcommittee, for example, must now review permit applications for walls between two and five feet in height. Taller walls must be approved by the Planning Board.

Aesthetically, walls taller than two feet cannot be smooth concrete, but rather a material such as brick or stone “so as to minimize the negative visual impact of the wall,” the law says.

Regulations about repairing existing walls make up about a quarter of the zoning changes and focus on the need for a permit and conditions under which a potentially dangerous wall must be repaired.

The issue of required repair was the one section of the text that was modified Tuesday evening before the vote.

Initially, it required residents to self-inspect retaining walls annually.

Instead, residents must now notify the Building Department if their wall shows sign of damage, such as tipping, and the building superintendent may then require immediate repair after an inspection.

Resident Mike Khorrami was the first at the meeting to raise an issue about required self-inspection for homeowners.

Homeowners who do not feel confident in an ability to do so might incur an added expense of hiring someone to complete an inspection, he said. Otherwise, the village could potentially have grounds to sue a resident if a retaining wall becomes damaged.

Village Attorney Michael Sahn said that the potential for such a lawsuit could not be ruled out.

Fastenberg was the sole vote against the retaining wall amendment, expressing concern early on in the hearing about the level at which the village will be imposing regulations.

She cited the change from an initial zoning law a few paragraphs long to the amended version, which fills five pages, as “overzealous regulation” and as being introduced without concrete evidence that wall safety has been a major issue in the village.

“To me it looks like one more fee, it looks like one more permit and it looks like more power to the building inspector,” she said.

Mayor Fred Carillo responded that the law was not intended to be “draconian.” Trustee Marina Chimerine chimed in.

“Every single code and every single change that’s transpired is to promote the public health safety of the residents,” Chimerine said. “It’s not to hurt the residents. That’s not what we’re doing.”

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