Lawler, Local Officials Ramp Up Opposition to Hochul’s Housing Plan

February 13, 2023

Westchester County Association

By Martin Wilbur

Congressman Mike Lawler (R-Pearl River) blasted Gov. Kathy Hochul for preparing to press forward with her proposed housing plan that he and other officials have charged would irreparably damage many of the region’s communities.

Joined by state and local elected officials from Westchester and Rockland counties at a Friday press conference at the Hawthorne Metro-North station, Lawler lambasted the governor, particularly for the transited-oriented development segment of her New York Housing Compact along with the proposed MTA payroll tax hike and proposing the largest spending plan in state history at $227 billion.

Under the current proposal, land within a half-mile radius of every MTA-operated train station in the region would be rezoned to allow for multifamily housing.

The congressman said it would not only trample on home rule but there isn’t the infrastructure, such as water and sewer, in many communities to sustain that level of development. Schools could also be overrun. Lawler estimated that there could be more than 10,000 new housing units in the 17th Congressional District alone.

“It’s not that we’re against housing. We all recognize the need for it,” Lawler said. “But we respect the rule of law. We respect the fact that local control of zoning is a bedrock principle in the state of New York. It is a constitutional right and the governor is proposing to eliminate it. It’s simply unconscionable.”

Lawler said the proposed $250 million the state would make available for infrastructure upgrades associated with the plan is a pittance that could be used up by a small number of municipalities because building sewer infrastructure and improving roads are so expensive.

Hochul’s plan has been met with widespread bipartisan condemnation from local officials, perhaps most strongly throughout the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island. The Housing Compact calls for every downstate municipality to increase its housing stock by 3 percent every three years to help reach the plan’s goal of building 800,000 new units statewide within the next decade.

That would mean about 300 new housing units in the Village of Ossining, 270 additional units in Somers and 410 in Yorktown, according to Lawler.

Assemblyman Matt Slater (R-Yorktown) said having the state dictate zoning to municipalities should be appalling to everyone as many towns have been taking steps to increase housing where it’s sustainable. He said one housing plan on Route 118 in Yorktown can’t move forward because the town needs help from the state to make improvements to the state road.

Slater said Yorktown, where he served as supervisor for three years, has recognized the need for diversified housing stock. The town has aggressively updated its zoning to try and meet the need, but that must remain a local government decision, he said.

“We want local control, not Hochul control,” Slater said. “It’s absurd that we are going to actually lose control of our own decision-making process, that the numbers that the congressman was talking about, where are you going to put these housing pieces, these housing complexes?

North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro has been one of the most outspoken local officials against Hochul’s housing plans since early last year when she proposed having as-of-right accessory dwelling unit for every home. He said the Housing Compact fails to recognize that a town such as North Castle has had accessory dwelling unit legislation on the books for nearly 40 years and started its Middle-Income Unit program in the 1990s, he said. North Castle has also had an affordable housing ordinance in effect for close to a decade.

Schiliro called the governor’s proposal a one-size-fits-all approach that “is the most egregious form of government overreach” that he’s ever seen. Despite his criticisms, he applauded her efforts, but not the proposed method.

“What she’s trying to do to try and achieve some of these (housing) goals, we’ve all been doing already,” Schiliro said. “But the governor is stripping local governments of the ability to have a say.”

Somers Supervisor Robert Scorrano said his town has done its fair share developing housing that is more moderately priced.

“To strip that (decision-making) away from us, to strip the ability to be able to know what’s in the best interests for your town is irresponsible,” he said. “Leaders lead at the highest levels. I urge the governor to listen to what is going on in the surrounding areas, in Putnam County, in Westchester County, Rockland County and Long Island.”

Lawler contended that there should be incentives where the local and state governments can work together to come up with a workable plan to increase the housing supply.

“A lot of the local municipalities have state routes that run right through them, and so the state’s unwilling to invest in critical infrastructure, the state’s unwilling to partner with the municipalities,” he said.

Despite the pushback from local governments, housing advocates have largely supported Hochul’s proposals. Marlene Zarfes, executive director of the non-profit Westchester Residential Opportunities, said her organization is “broadly supportive” of Hochul’s plan to create more housing and some compromise will need to be retained regarding home rule. But too little has been done for too long, she said.

“Some local control of siting and environmental impacts is and will continue to be important, but historically home rule has been used as a tool to exclude lower income and minority households from access to higher opportunity areas,” Zarfes said. “The result is the housing crisis we have today. The governor’s policies reflect the sad reality that localities don’t have the will to solve this on their own.”

The Westchester County Association, the county’s preeminent independent business organization, said it has also supported Hochul’s proposal because the biggest impediment to attracting and retaining talent is the housing issue, said its President and CEO Michael Romita.

He said it will be interesting to see if the governor refines any of her proposals, including the Housing Compact, but Romita doesn’t expect any widescale revisions on her part.

“Our local communities have to understand that in many cases there’s a NIMBYism that’s a tremendous barrier to get the housing that we need,” Romita said. “We need to find the ways to break the logjams. But where the governor’s proposal starts out, it’s not the zombie apocalypse that a lot of people make it out to be. It’s not telling local communities what to do; it’s telling them to please do something.”