Back in 2009, Southampton Town approved a Planned Development District that would have allowed a 16-unit rental apartment complex on Sandy Hollow Road in Tuckahoe.
Last fall, developers decided to halve the number of bedrooms in the development and double the number of units, setting off a firestorm in a community divided over what some perceived as a bait-and-switch and what others saw as a much-needed shot in the arm for affordable housing east of the Shinnecock Canal.
This Tuesday, developers Georgica Green Ventures brought a scaled-back version of last fall’s plan to the Southampton Town Board. The new plan reduces the number of buildings and reduces the number of apartments from 34 to 28.
The developers’ attorney, David Gilmartin of Southampton, said at the public hearing Tuesday that his clients can’t justify the expense of the project if they build it with any fewer units, but that didn’t stop a consortium of neighbors and opponents of the project from deriding it yet again.
The public hearing was held over until an evening meeting on May 27 at 6 p.m. Historically, more proponents of workforce housing have been present at evening meetings on this project, since, presumptively, people who need workforce housing are working during the day.
Mr. Gilmartin was quick to point out to the project’s detractors that the housing will not be subsidized. Georgica Green is taking advantage of tax credits to build the apartments, but will be renting them to people who earn more than the maximum income of people who are eligible for subsidized housing.
“There’s an absolute need for this type of housing, not only in this town, but on Long Island,” he said, adding that Southampton’s restrictive zoning code has already forced many workers to leave because they can’t afford the large homes on large lots that make up much of Southampton’s housing stock.
Mr. Gilmartin added that Suffolk County’s recent workforce housing needs assessment showed that “workforce housing is in desperate short supply on the East End,” and that if it is not provided, the “local non-professional workforce will wither and even the middle class will be reduced.”
“What is happening regionally is even worse in Southampton,” he said.
The complex would be tied in to a baby BESST onsite sewage treatment system whose outflow would contain 6 milligrams per liter of nitrogen, less than the Suffolk County Health Department standard of 10 mg/L. It would also have a wastewater outflow of 5,250 gallons of water per day, down from 7,050 gallons proposed last fall.
The outflow of a typical home septic system has a nitrogen concentration of about 50 mg/L, though the total amount of water released from a smaller home would be significantly lower than an apartment complex. Natural gas and water mains would also be brought to the site.
Former Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said he approved of some environmental improvements to the plan, including the use of native plants and the 16,000-square-foot reduction of impervious surfaces on the site, but he urged the developers to use the absolute best sewage treatment system available.
He also urged the town board to remember the increase in the total flow of wastewater from the site, not just the percentage of nitrogen, and said that the Suffolk County Health Department has an “abysmal” record on policing the nitrogen content of wastewater.
“My stance has never been anti-development, but we need to be aggressive in how we go about it,” he said. “This can fit very nicely into the community.”
Morgan McGorney of North Sea Road pointed out that, just 1,000 feet north of the proposed apartment complex, three very large houses have sat empty for several years after the town evicted 58 people from the complex, and half a mile south on Sandy Hollow Road, three other large new houses owned by George Guldi have been abandoned since Mr. Guldi was charged with mortgage fraud several years ago.
“I can’t see the town backing a project like this when we have six huge houses sitting empty,” he said. “Why are we not doing something about that?”
Bill Flare of Big Fresh Pond Road said the project was “too much on too little a piece of property.” The complex would sit on 2.6 acres.
Town Housing Authority Managing Director Curtis Highsmith said he wanted to make clear that the project will benefit residents of Southampton Town.
“We’re looking to establish the template for housing here locally on the East End of Long Island,” he said. “At some point we have to compromise.”
Noelle Bailly of Sandy Hollow Road has been a vocal opponent of the project since last year. She said she’s already gathered signatures from more than 400 people who oppose the apartment complex.
She said she believes the project will create more traffic on Sandy Hollow Road, which feeds traffic from Sag Harbor and Noyac into County Road 39 at a traffic light that is frequently backed up during the summer.
Sharon Carr of Tuckahoe said she believes the project is in violation of the town’s 1999 comprehensive plan update, which calls for preserving the environment, and that apartment complexes violate town zoning.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming countered that the comprehensive plan update also calls on the town to address the affordable housing crisis.
“Our young people are leaving in droves,” she said.
Assistant Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato added that planned development districts are designed to supercede zoning.
“It gives basically carte blanche to the town board to construct a zoning district with specific parameters,” she said. “The town board may chose to create apartments that don’t comply with zoning.”
Tim Corwin, whose family is one of the founding families of Southampton, said he thinks affordable housing is needed, but not in this location.
“Upzoning made it very difficult for young people to find anything affordable on the East End,” he said. “But there are other ways. This parcel is too small for multi-family housing.”
Stan Fayman, who lives on Sandy Hollow Road, said he couldn’t fathom the idea of young women with baby carriages who would live in the apartments trying to navigate the traffic on the street.
“This potentially is a killing field,” he said. “If people die here, will you ever have to ask yourself what was i thinking?”
His neighbor, Philip Woodie, agreed.
“It’s pretty obvious what the consensus on this is,” he said. “Everybody in the room is saying ‘yes we like affordable housing.’ They just think this is the wrong spot. That’s it. It’s a cut and dry scenario. It’s the wrong spot.”
“The jobs are someplace else,” he added of the reason young people are leaving Southampton. “That’s at the root of the issue.”