Last year I warned readers that federal and state progressives were plotting to enact laws that would grant Washington or Albany the power to override local single-family housing zoning laws.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a one-time centrist who has moved to the far left to secure a long-term lease on the executive mansion, jumped on the “abolish local zoning” bandwagon in January.
In a 237-page manifesto, “A New Era For New York,” released in conjunction with her January State of the State address, Hochul called for eliminating so-called “antiquated zoning laws” to end a housing shortage.
The manifesto stated: “to reduce housing costs, Governor Hochul will propose legislation to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots.”
Such legislation, if signed into law, would effectively kill the historic authority of taxpayers, via their elected local representatives, to determine the kind of housing they want in their neighborhood.
Interestingly, the first elected official out of the shoot to condemn Hochul’s proposal was a Nassau County Democrat. In a press conference in early February, Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is challenging Hochul for the gubernatorial nomination, came out swinging. He said, “I don’t believe in taking away zoning control from our local governments. I don’t believe in eliminating home rule and I don’t believe in the state imposing their will on local governments.”
Hochul’s proposal, Suozzi concluded, “would actually end single-family housing in New York state.”
Suozzi’s comments hit a nerve. Suddenly numerous Democrats began to panic. Supporting the governor’s plan, they feared, could cost them their legislative seats in November.
On Feb. 9, Northport Democratic state Sen. James Gaughran announced his opposition to Hochul’s housing plan. “One of the concerns I have is this law in itself may take away the … power of local community boards to really have discretion on [ADU] applications.”
Even New York City Mayor Eric Adams jumped off Hochul’s housing bandwagon. “There is no one size fits all,” he said. “I’m sure we can deal with the housing crisis we are facing, and local government can make those decisions in a smart way.”
Local elected officials were not the only ones fearing a voter backlash at the polls.
Several Albany insiders I know told me on Feb. 8 that Hochul’s staff realized they had made a mistake and were looking for a way out of the dilemma without stepping on too many progressive toes.
Then, after Hochul secured her party’s nomination for governor, lo and behold, she backtracked.
“Since my days in local government,” the governor opined, “I have believed strongly in the importance of consensus building and listening to communities and my fellow policy makers.”
Hence, she concluded, “I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach” from state senators and submitted a “30-day amendment to my budget legislation that removes requirements on localities…”
So much for Hochul’s newly founded progressive principles. Nevertheless, I will not look a gift horse in the mouth and will savor the victory.
But supporters of home rule must remain vigilant: There is filed in Albany other legislation dedicated to destroying single-family neighborhoods more Draconian than Hochul’s discarded proposal. And with super Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, a gubernatorial veto of such legislation can be overridden.
Remember, progressive elites have historically despised single-family housing. For example, when the 20th century’s leading New York progressive, Robert Moses, controlled New York City’s Planning Commission, Slum Clearance Committee, and City Construction Board in the 1950s and 1960s, he loved using eminent domain powers to bulldoze single-family row houses and to build huge multi-family housing projects, which today are sadly examples of urban blight.
And 21st Century progressives want to impose on suburban neighborhoods similar projects.
Why have suburban neighborhoods been the targets of the schemes of leftist social engineers?
In my judgment, the noted sociologist Andrew Greeley, explained it best:
“The neighborhood is rejected by our intellectual and cultural elites … precisely because the neighborhood is not modern, and what is not modern is conservative, reactionary, unprogressive, unenlightened, superstitious, and just plain wrong … Neighborhoods are narrow, they are local, they are ‘parochial.’ How can any well-educated, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, ‘modern’ person possibly believe that there is anything good from something as parochial as the neighborhood? How indeed.”
Inner City urban renewal schemes prescribed by elitist government bureaucrats, administrators and planners failed. Let’s make sure those discredited policies are not pursued in Nassau County.