The town of Hempstead, New York, at least for the near future, is allowing the continuation of boating as usual.
But a late May meeting of the Town Board in this southern Long Island community brought extensive media attention, making Hempstead the latest battleground in America between boaters who have long had private slips and lawmakers who want to regulate them.
The Hempstead meeting grew downright fiery — with one woman breaking down in tears and outraged complaints drawing raucous gallery applause — as residents denounced a proposal by Councilman Anthony D’Esposito to limit the number of boat slips they can rent out behind their homes.
The board members tried for the better part of a half hour to adjourn the public hearing and go back to the drawing board on the proposal, which so enraged community members that more than 600 signed a petition to stop it from becoming law. Residents at the meeting refused to allow a vote on adjourning the hearing. They kept walking up to the microphone to be heard, one after the next, whether the board members liked it or not.
“This affects a lot of people’s livelihood,” one resident said. “You act like dictators there that think you can get away with anything you want, and unless people come down en masse, you don’t respond.”
Several residents said they’re still trying to recover financially from the devastation of 2011’s Hurricane Irene and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, and that renting boat slips behind their properties is a lifeblood of income.
“These are people who got slammed by Irene and Sandy. Do you get that? You accused them of creating environmental hazards, dumping trash in the water, not following the rules—you and a marina owner—and that’s absolutely false. I’ve lived in the village for 55 years. I know people who own homes and rent boat space. I know people with boats who rent dock space. I can’t ever recall a situation when there was a problem.”
Eventually, the board voted to adjourn the public hearing and rework the proposal. Because of the number of questions and concerns that residents raised, the town’s attorney told Soundings, the proposal has been put on hold indefinitely.
At issue is the way some residents earn income from backyard slip rentals, a practice that many homeowners consider to be their God-given right, on par with breathing air. The business practice happens on waterfronts throughout America, with entire websites like
docksearch.com mixing classified ads for marina slips and backyard slips nationwide. In California, a private slip for a 50-footer is listed at $800 a month. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, private slips for 90-footers are advertised at $1,500.
The cash to be earned can be substantial, which is why in Hempstead, for years, residents on the canals and waterfronts have built and rented out boat slips behind their homes. They often use websites inclusing Craigslist for marketing during the prime summer months.The number of backyard slips a home can squeeze in also affects resale value; one recent listing on Zillow.com for a four-bedroom, $786,000 home in the Hempstead hamlet of Oceanside touted “eight boat slips (great income potential)” as a major selling point.
But with the annual influx of boat-slip renters, D’Esposito says, come problems for the town.
“Unfortunately, a common practice of renting residential dock space or slips for boat storage is becoming an eyesore in our beautiful waterfront communities,” he said at a news conference that, for many residents, served as first notification of his proposal. “This practice affects the serenity of our waterfront by adding noise and pollution, obviously a drastic effect on our quality of life.”
D’Esposito’s proposal would restrict residents to one slip per 20 feet of shoreline, amending township Code 168, Structures in Waterways. Right now, there is no restriction on the total number of slips that a resident can have. The code requires residents adding a dock or bulkhead to pay a $200 application fee, and perhaps some additional fees, and in some cases to work with licensed architects or engineers on planning, to ensure that any installed slips are sound and do not interfere with public navigation of waterways.
His proposal is far from the first time that a waterfront community has sought to balance boat-slip activity with other concerns. In Michigan back in 2000, residents and lawmakers debated what constitutes “reasonable use” after an influx of extra boats showed up on private docks. In Newport, California, in 2003, the city cracked down on overcrowded berths where residents had squeezed extra boats into larger slips, citing the danger of a fire on one boat spreading too quickly to others. On Nolin River Lake in Kentucky, a landowner who tries to install more than one dock can lose his permit to have any dock at all — for 15 years.
Those in favor of limiting the number of slips behind homes in Hempstead include the bay constable, who told CBS News in New York that many of the homes “were designed in the 1920s, very narrow, designed for one boat behind the house.”Another proponent of the change is Chris Squeri, executive director of the New York Marine Trades
Association, which represents businesses — including marinas — on Long Island. That organization worked with the town to draft the proposed revision to the ordinance, according to Newsday, looking for clarification on the difference between a residential and a commercial property that has to do things that homeowners with boat slips do not, such as investing in training and systems.
Squeri declined to comment for Soundings. D’Esposito referred all questions to the town’s legal counsel, Richard Regina. Regina said the board had taken the proposal off its calendar, at least for now.
Hempstead’s Department of Conservation and Waterways is looking at residents’ concerns and then plans to “sit down with our legal department and try to clarify the language,” Regina said. For now, as the summer boating season is in high gear, Regina said the status quo will remain: “They are going to continue to enforce the ordinance that is currently in place.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.