A public hearing was held during the most recent Town of North Hempstead board meeting to consider the application of Huntington Coach Corp. for an exemption from zoning requirements related to the outdoor storage of Manhasset’s school buses at 13, 15 and 21 Harbor Park Dr., in Port Washington.
In 2005-06, Manhasset’s school buses were initially stored on their campus, but as the school community grew larger the town permitted the school district to house their buses at North Hempstead Beach Park. Several years ago the town found out that storing the buses at the beach was actually considered alienation of parkland, so the district was forced to relocate. Huntington Coach has ultimately been storing the buses at these three locations, but requires an exemption from zoning requirements in order to continue parking them in the area, which is not a permitted use in the Planned Industrial Park (PIP) District.
Town councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte asked Michael Sahn, a Uniondale-based attorney representing Huntington Coach Corp. if the bus company has looked at other locations in the area that don’t require a zoning exemption.
“Yes, our client has looked over the years,” Sahn said. “But because of the need to be in proximity to the school district and [the fact that] there is very little property that fits the need in terms of having enough space to park the buses—this has been the ideal location.”
Rosemary Johnson, the deputy superintendent of the Manhasset school district spoke before the board in support of the application.
“This application is critically important to the Manhasset School District,” Johnson said. “Huntington Coach became the school district’s provider in 2005-06. You don’t realize the criticality of transportation until you’re actually in it. Transportation is the single most important thing we do. Having this operation in close proximity to the district is critical to our ability to operate on a daily basis and it’s also critical financially.”
Johnson shared with the board that in 2004-05 prior to the district’s contract with Huntington Coach, the district had spent approximately $4 million on transportation. Johnson further stated that the cost of transportation hasn’t increased much in the 15 years that the district has been in contract with Huntington.
“Financially for us it has meant a great deal to be able to control our transportation costs so effectively,” Johnson said. “Part of that is the way Huntington Coach operates but the other part of that is the close proximity of their vehicles.”
Johnson stated that the district operates busing for their students several times a day for activities, athletics and stressed the importance of having the buses nearby.
The board members had concerns regarding an increase in the number of cars that may be parked at the site or along Harbor Park Drive while the buses were in use. Robert Eschbacher, from VHB Engineering evaluated the three sites to study how the parking is working at the present time.
“The bus traffic periods are really offset from other major traffic periods in the industrial park,” Eschbacher said. “The bus drivers come and they leave before there is a great deal of activity in the industrial park.”
Sahn stated that if the Town of North Hempstead was to approve this exemption, the applicant would still need to appear before the board of zoning appeals for any parking variance that is required.
“The district itself and where we are situated—I would describe as geographically undesirable for a bus company to service,” Johnson said about their desire to keep the buses at this location in Port Washington. “It is difficult to access and difficult to move back and forth. Any change at this point in time, I can’t stress the criticality of the operation to our district and the disruption that it would cause to our operations to have a change in venue that would create a distance that would not allow us to enjoy the efficiency that we currently enjoy.”
The town ultimately decided to continue the public hearing until their next meeting.
“I represent part of Manhasset and councilwoman Lurvey represents part of Manhasset, we know how important this is to the Manhasset School District,” Dalimonte said. “I’m going to continue this public hearing until February, while we look into a few things.”
The Town of North Hempstead will hold its next meeting on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. via livestream.