A proposed workforce housing development in Tuckahoe is still drawing a crowd to hearings before the Southampton Town Board, which must approve a revised Planned Development District in order for the project to proceed.
Early versions of the complex, on a short stretch of well-traveled road connecting County Road 39 to North Sea Road that serves as a major access from Sag Harbor to points west, had called for 16 two-bedroom apartment units, but developers pitched a plan last fall to instead build 32 one-bedroom apartments, setting off a firestorm among neighbors who saw the change as a bait-and-switch.
A new plan pitched earlier this spring cut the number of buildings from four to three and reduced the number of apartments to 28 units averaging 563 square feet.
A daytime hearing in early May drew many neighbors who don’t think the project belongs on Sandy Hollow Road, while many in the crowd at an evening hearing on May 27 said Southampton is in dire need of affordable housing.
North Sea resident Myron Hotz, a retired deputy housing commissioner for New York State, read a letter praising the project from Sustainable Long Island Executive Director Amy Engel.
In the letter, Ms. Engel said the project “will provide local housing for young professionals who seek to make Southampton their home,” and added that Sandy Hollow developers Georgica Green have won an award from Sustainable Long Island for their affordable housing work in Great Neck.
Tuckahoe resident Frances Genovese said she believes groups like Sustainable Long Island “function as a quasi-interest for the building authority.”
“Who underwrites that association?,” she asked, adding that she believed the letter “should be struck from the record and no attention should be paid to it.”
She then read a letter from Noelle Bailly, a neighbor and frequent critic of the project whose comments are often cut off by the board when she reaches the three-minute speaking limit.
“Southampton residents are just against this proposal,” she read. “I can’t believe we are having this conversation…. This is not about affordable housing. This is about creating cash flow for the Southampton Housing Authority.”
Maude Pollock of Hampton Bays said the idea of sustainability “rings so familiar.”
“It sounds just like Agenda 21,” she said, referring to a U.N. measure often pointed out by Tea Party affiliates as evidence of a global conspiracy to deprive individuals of their property rights. Ms. Pollock often updates the Southampton Town Board on her views on Agenda 21.
Twenty-five-year-old Billy Sacher, who works in Southampton and lives with his family in North Sea, was thinking about something much more personal than Agenda 21.
“This project is very important to me and important to a bunch of people I know,” he said. “This is something that needs to happen. Besides family properties and a stroke of random luck, it’s very difficult to live out here…. I’m living with my family now, and I know several others who can only live with their family.”
“If something like this can get approved, that would be a fantastic move for my age group, for people looking to live here year-round and not struggle all the time,” he added
Reverend Dr. Katrina Foster, the pastor of both Incarnation Lutheran Church in Water Mill and St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett, is also the director of a 40-unit senior housing complex at St. Michael’s.
“We need affordable housing in Southampton badly,” she said, adding that many young members of Incarnation Lutheran Church’s congregation have told her that if their parents didn’t own land or allow them to live with them, there would be no way for them to live on the East End.
She said one couple in her congregation felt lucky to find a rental for $2,800 per month, and the St. Michael’s project has a waiting list of 123 senior citizens.
“The need is overwhelming,” she said.
Former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney, now the legislative director of the Southampton Business Alliance, said he doesn’t understand why opponents of the project think it was rushed, when early versions had been proposed when he was supervisor in 2007.
“Housing has to be addressed,” he said. “I think you have a developer who’s trying his darndest to be responsive to the community. He knows there is a market for the housing.”
“We need housing for tomorrow’s leaders, and we need it today,” he added.
Southampton Sustainability Advisory Committee member Bill Chaleff, an architect, said he’s seen statistics that show that Southampton needs between 5,000 and 6,500 units of affordable housing.
“Doing five, 10, 15 or 20 units a year will take significant time,” he said. “We’ve seen our quality of life threatened by the drain of our youth. We are currently on an unsustainable path.”
Joesph D’Amelio, who serves as the Executive Petty Officer at the Coast Guard’s station in Hampton Bays, said 56 young men and women who work for him have difficulty finding housing near the station.
“A project like this opens doors for them not to have to commute an hour and a half” to work, he said.
Bonnie Goebert of Shinnecock Hills wasn’t impressed.
“I wanted to live on the Upper East Side when I was growing up, but I lived in Alphabet City,” she said. “Where’s your vision? Where are the good locations to put it? This type of spot zoning is like dealing with water quality on a house-by-house basis.”
Sandy Hollow Day Camp Director Beth Hughes, whose camp is near the proposed development, said she believes in the need for affordable housing, but was concerned when she recently watched the heavy traffic on Sandy Hollow Road.
“We are homeowners in Water Mill. I will sign on to build an apartment [in her house] to help a family,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense in that spot.”
Diane Rulnick of Water Mill said she’s not sure if any spot would be ideal, but the need for affordable housing is real.
“It doesn’t seem to be an easy choice, but I don’t know that there is a choice,” she said. “We can’t become the wealthy and the poor. We need care and we need vision and we need courage. I think we need this project.”
Noelle Bailly said she is offended that people have suggested she simply doesn’t want the project in her backyard.
“We aren’t NIMBYs,” she said. “This application is flawed, deceptive, inaccurate, generalized and incomplete. If this gets voted through, I will be suing.”
Ms. Bailly added that she has gathered 70 to 80 more signatures on a 450-signature petition against the project that she has already submitted to the town.
Georgica Green’s attorney, David Gilmartin, said he’s often heard people suggest affordable housing be placed closer to the village center.
“You gotta get real. With the property values there, there’s no way this can be located anywhere near the village,” he said, adding that he believes this project is better than the 16-unit project, which would involve bigger apartments that can house as many as 42 people.
“One is coming. I would suggest you take the better option,” he said.
The public hearing was adjourned to the board’s June 10 meeting.