Pictured Above: Speonk Commons, a transit-oriented mixed use housing and retail development in Speonk, has been touted by Southampton Town as a project that successfully incorporated community input.

Southampton Town is in the midst of a series of virtual public forums designed to get community input on how best to reshape the face of housing in an area that is currently plagued by a crisis in affordability. 

Southampton is in the midst of preparing a new Housing Plan, with the help of planning consultants VHB, which it will adopt as an updated element of the town’s 1999 Comprehensive Plan later this year. 

Gathering community input is one of the first steps in drafting the Housing Plan, said Gina Martini of VHB at the second Zoom virtual forum, for the community of Noyac, on July 23. She said that effort will include the nine Zoom forums corresponding to each Citizens Advisory Committee in the town this summer, followed by an online survey.

Ms. Martini said the Housing Plan is “about all housing, not just affordable housing. What are the needs? Do they include senior housing? Affordable housing is certainly an important piece of it.”

“The goal is not to identify specific locations, developments or developers,” she said. “All development has to go before the appropriate boards… this is a broad housing plan outlining local needs and goals.”

“Before the Covid crisis, were were going to have a very large meeting for community input, but after, we thought it might be better to have a series of meetings. Some hamlets are almost built out, and some have room,” said the town’s Director of Housing and Community Services, Diana Weir, who is coordinating the effort from the town’s side. “All of you can listen to this one or any of the other seven. Don’t feel this is your only opportunity. We will have all these sessions going on through August. Then we will have the survey, which is more in-depth. This is more conversational here, but the survey will be where we will get a lot of the statistics.”

“The last plan was done 20 years ago, and the housing section really wasn’t addressed fully,” she added. “Things have changed so much as far as property values and the kind of land available. This document will be used moving forward for policy, like zoning changes.”

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said the lack of a housing plan is a “challenge that has faced the town for years and years.”

“It’s important that everyone know that this is not necessarily a specific plan for a hamlet but an overall guiding document being used across the board. We certainly do want affordable housing. We want healthy communities, with a variety of people and ages. We’ll need that going forward.”

At the Noyac forum, and another forum for residents of North Sea on July 21, Ms. Martini gave an overview of the existing land use, demographics and housing stock in the community, and then asked a series of polling questions about the housing needs, obstacles to housing, and community desires for infrastructure improvement.

A forum for residents of Southampton/Shinnecock Hills/Tuckahoe will be held on Wednesday, July 29; followed by Water Mill on July 30, Westhampton/Speonk/Remsenburg/Eastport/Quiogue on Tuesday, Aug. 4; Bridgehampton on Thursday, Aug. 6; East Quogue on Tuesday, Aug. 11; Flanders/Riverside/Northampton on Thursday, Aug. 13 and Hampton Bays on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

All forums will begin at 7 p.m. Access information and videos of past forums are on the town’s website.

In the polling conducted at the Noyac session, most people said the type of housing the community needed most was intergenerational housing, such as accessory apartments or carriage houses in existing homes, and the most needed size of housing was two-bedroom.

Most people said zoning, local & environmental regulations were the greatest drawback to creating affordable housing, followed by neighborhood objections to the housing (Not In My Backyard), the high cost of land and the high cost of construction.

When asked a multiple choice question what amenities they would like to see downtown near where they work, the most popular answers were economic development and bicycle infrastructure improvements, followed by traffic safety and traffic calming.

Ms. Martini said the plan, when complete, will not identify specific sites where housing can be built, but will “look generically at ‘infill development’ of existing vacant or underused sites,” as well as at sites that may have already been developed in a way that no longer suits modern needs, such as vacant offices.

Ms. Weir said it is the town’s goal to spread new affordable housing throughout Southampton, so it is not clustered in one area, where it could become a burden on infrastructure and school systems.

She added that a .5 percent real estate transfer tax for affordable housing proposed by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, similar to the Community Preservation Fund, would provide a great help to the town’s efforts. Mr. Thiele’s bill proposing the tax passed the state legislature last year but was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Ms. Weir said the town could use the money for projects like giving grants to people who want to rehabilitiate their homes, to upgrade existing stock, provide down payment assistance, and create an employer-assisted housing program.

“The options are very large, and that will be the next phase of this, probably in the spring,” she said.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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