Sag Harbor Plans Village-Wide Affordable Housing Overlay District

The Sag Harbor Village Board is expected to introduce a code revision in February that would make the entire village an Affordable Housing Overlay District, allowing affordable apartments in commercial districts and auxiliary housing units in the residentially zoned portion of the Village.

Like in much of the East End, Sag Harbor’s local residents have faced a crushing increase in the cost of housing in recent years, forcing many to relocate to areas where it is cheaper to live, which, in turn, has led to labor shortages in vital industries across the East End.

“This board’s objective has been and remains to be to assist families who are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing based on wages offered locally,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ed Haye, who co-chairs the village’s six-month-old Affordable Housing Initiative along with Trustee Bob Plumb, at the Village Board’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Mr. Haye said the board’s focus is on three aspects of addressing the housing shortage — zoning changes, like the overlay district, collaboration with other municipalities, developers and non-profits that share the goal of providing affordable housing, and administration of a housing program once it is adopted.

“We know the success of these initiatives depends on public and private engagement,” he said, adding that “effective program administration will be essential to every aspect of this initiative, leveraging existing resources and skills, with East Hampton and Southampton towns assisting with administration.”

Mr. Haye said the town plans to introduce proposed amendments to the zoning code “as soon as the next Village Board meeting,” which will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

A groundswell of public support followed Mr. Haye’s comments at the meeting, which was held via Zoom due to the surging pandemic, which several members of the community group East End YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) chiming in.

“I am thrilled,” said Bryony Freij, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker, who is also a housing advocate for East End YIMBY, who said she owns a half-acre in the village and would like to build an accessory apartment.

“At least I can help one person who is struggling to stay in our community,” she said, adding that there can be a symbiotic relationship between homeowners and renters.

Ms. Freij added that she hopes the village encourages conversions from single family to multifamily homes as part of the zoning changes.

Alejandra Lucci, also a member of East End YIMBY, said she is now a homeowner, but was a renter for many years, and has owned a business in East Hampton for 21 years.

“There are lot of people in the ambulance, and firefighters who need the housing,” she said. “As a business owner, I have a shortage of people — I need people to work,” she added. “My nephew was a volunteer firefighter, but he can’t find a place to live here because it’s very expensive… We all help each other when there are fires. We can help each other now.”

“I’m thrilled that we are emphasizing this. I think it’s beyond a crisis situation,” said Geraldine Maslanka, who lives in the village. “I specifically would like to see apartments above stores and retail establishments throughout the village. I know we have opened it up to office space, but maybe when those leases expire they can revert back to residential use only. It may also reduce traffic if people can live upstairs and walk to work.”

Michael Daly, who lives in North Haven and is a member of East End YIMBY, said he’s “Happy to be a part of a community that appears to be taking this affordability issue seriously.”

“I think Sag Harbor will be a model on how to get behind the issue and look for solutions,” he added. “This is not just about affordable housing. It’s about creating codes that allow local people to create housing that is affordable.”

Pilar Moya-Mancera, the Executive Director of Housing Help, Inc., which is based in Huntington, said she personally wanted to advocate for senior citizens, who are often “cash poor and house rich.”

“They would really benefit from having accessory apartments so it can help pay their property taxes,” she said. “I’m also advocating for children that need housing stability. It is necessary for them.

Maria Pentcheva Burns, who is a child psychologist with a PhD, and whose husband is a builder, said her family had lived in Sag Harbor for six generations but “on almost a daily basis, my husband and I talk about ‘do we move out of here so our children can stay with us and stay put?’”

“Without my husband’s income, I could never afford a mortgage out here,” she said. “I work with a lot of families, and especially with the pandemic we are seeing more separations and divorces. It’s putting them in a very tough situation.”

Housing advocate Kathryn Szoka, a co-owner of Canio’s Books, said she hopes the village thinks outside the box, perhaps by building housing over parking lots in the village.

“The housing we create needs to be affordable in perpetuity, and it needs to go to people in the community who work in the community,” she said, adding that that could include developments outside of the village.

“The mix of people is the special sauce of this place and I don’t want that to change,” said Shelter Island resident Elizabeth Hanley. “My peers — young professionals and young families, find it hard to find a place to live.”

Sean McLean, whose firm Renaissance Downtowns has worked on large-scale mixed use affordable developments throughout Long Island, including one underway in Riverside on the west end of Southampton Town, said the top barrier he’s seen “is not NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) but the will of municipal elected officials to push through with these hard-to-talk-about problems.”

“A family of four making $180,000 a year right now cannot find a house to rent,” he said. “They sply don’t exist as a reasonable percentage of that income. That’s not an unreasonable amount of money for a teacher and a police officer to make.”

Mr. McLean offered his services to the project.

“I commend you on these conversations, and this effort,” he said. “You have a lot of really great people out here that are happy to work with you.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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