East Hampton is on a tear with its affordable housing goals this winter, with a proposed 37-unit complex on Montauk Highway in Amagansett expected to be under construction later this spring, and with a new agreement to purchase 4 acres on Route 114 just outside the Sag Harbor Village boundary to build up to 27 more units.
The town board agreed Jan. 17 to spend $900,000 to purchase the Route 114 land, owned by the Triune Baptist Church, where for decades a sign on the property has told motorists it was the “future home of the Triune Baptist Church.”
The church currently holds services at St. David’s A.M.E. Zion Church on Eastville Avenue in Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust owns eight affordable cottages next door to the Route 114 property.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said at the Jan. 17 meeting that he’s expecting a groundbreaking for the Amagansett complex this spring.
“This has been a goal and continues to be a goal of my administration,” he said of affordable housing. “More than a decade passed without action, partly due to the financial crisis, and there wasn’t support on the town board to make it happen. We have to figure out a way to accommodate this need without abandoning our values.”
Public comment at a Jan. 17 hearing on the Route 114 purchase was generally supportive, with some Wainscott leaders worrying that it would overburden their tiny school. Despite its location far north of the heart of Wainscott and adjacent to Sag Harbor, the property is in the Wainscott School District.
A 48-unit Wainscott affordable housing complex proposed in 2014 by the Windmill Village Housing Development Fund Corporation was roundly criticized by proponents of the school, and was later dropped.
Wainscott School Board President David Eagan told the town board at the Jan. 17 hearing that he was “very gratified and thankful to receive an email we were cc’d on from Councilman [Jeff] Bragman, with the subject ‘Threat to Wainscott School,’” in which Mr. Bragman said the board was “aware of the issue with the school and working on a solution so it would not be adversely affected.”
“As long as you work to that solution, you will have our complete support,” he added.
Mr. Bragman was quick to point out that the subject line “Threat to Wainscott School” was the subject of an email he was responding to, not his words.
Mr. Eagan said he was concerned by recent editorials and commentary he’s heard in the community that ‘it’s Wainscott’s turn’ to build affordable housing.
“People seem to think Wainscott doesn’t deliver its fair share,” he said. “We have 279 full-time residents, and a total of 129 students from pre-K to 12th grade in our district, yielding a student population of 46.3 percent of our full-time residents. Thats an astounding number.”
Mr. Eagan pointed out that neighboring Sagaponack has 268 full time residents but only 39 students in its tiny school.
He said much of this can be explained by several small cabin-style housing complexes within Wainscott, and because “Wainscott has the third most year-round rental properties [of East Hampton hamlets] to the north, even though we’re the smallest hamlet.”
The Wainscott School educates students in Kindergarten through 3 and then pays tuition to send kids in other grades to East Hampton schools.
“We take a very strong position on the community’s desire to continue the historic mission of our unique school, with individualized instruction… an open classroom format, and a highly collaborative and caring learning environment,” he said.
School costs have long been unevenly spread throughout East Hampton Town — with historically affordable areas, like Springs, shouldering the tax burden of crowded schools, while oceanfront districts benefit from both high property values and a low student population in their tiny schools.
Cate Rogers of Springs told the board that she lives down the street from East Hampton Town’s Greenhollow Woods workforce housing complex.
More than a decade ago, “I heard from my neighbors there was a catastrophe coming to the area,” she said. “I don’t know if anybody even thinks about it today… There’s no visible difference between the houses that are now $2 million there and the affordable houses… To have local families have places to live in our community — it’s a great place and it changed nothing.”
Roy Nicholson owns property that’s zoned for a minimum of five acres just south of the Route 114 site, and he said he was disappointed the town’s Community Preservation Fund didn’t purchase the property, which is zoned for a minimum of two acres.
“The town is looking to negate its hard work keeping the aquifer clean and protecting the woodlands,” he said, adding that the project would be “far out of scale with the neighborhood.”
Martin Drew of Springs said he agreed with Mr. Nicholson that the complex shouldn’t be built in an area with such low-density zoning, but then chastised the board for not doing more to build affordable housing in the decade-and-a-half since planner Lee Koppleman’s master plan for the town showed it needed more than 1,000 units of affordable housing.
David Buda of Springs brought a graph showing comparative tax bills between different hamlets in East Hampton.
He said that in Wainscott, the overall tax rate is $534 to $579 per $1,000 of assessed valuation [East Hampton does not assess property at full value], while in Springs the tax rate is $1,403 to $1,478 per $1,000, a three-to-one difference.
But, he said, on the basis of school taxes alone, Wainscott taxpayers pay $141 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, while Springs residents pay $1,043 per $1,000.
He added that the Wainscott School budget is $2.1 million, while the Springs School’s budget is $25.8 million.
“I think they can cope with this burden, which should be minimal,” he said.
“The woman at King Kullen that I chat with lives in Manorville. My mechanic lives in Riverhead,” said Michael Hanson of Wainscott. “There’s an employee at the post office in Wainscott. He lives in Florida now. He lived in Moriches and his commute was nearly three hours. I asked him if he moved because he likes warm weather, and he said, no, he moved because he doesn’t like traffic. That’s what we’re dealing with in Wainscott.”
“A town that has a great environment, exquisite real estate and gorgeously clad people is not a wonderful place to live in unless it also has a heart,” said Jeanne Frankl, a member of the town’s Community Housing Opportunity Fund. “I congratulate the board on its commitment. Thank you.”
“I think the age of the one-room school is long gone,” said J.B. DosSantos, who has been a real estate agent in East Hampton for two decades. “The world has become more and more about the haves and have nots. We have the opportunity to purchase a property that will benefit our community and low income folks who are part of our town, who work and raise children…. Low income kids in stable homes are more likely to thrive in school, go to college and have more income as an adult. Give others the opportunity to thrive.”
“I support affordable housing, pure and simple,” said Betty Smith of Springs. “It is the right and human thing to do.”
Ed Reale is a board member of the Sag Harbor Housing Community Trust, and he’s also a Wainscott resident.
“My younger son had a treasured experience at the Wainscott School. He’s now in his late 20s,” he said. “He and his brother and all his childhood friends can no longer afford to live here. That to me is very telling about what this is about. I manage real estate offices, and the saddest thing you can see in a real estate office is a local family coming in to look for someplace to live. There hundreds of people looking all the time and we have nothing to tell them.”