After months of debate and more than a half-dozen lengthy and contentious public hearings and numerous revisions, the Southampton Town Board this afternoon unanimously approved a Planned Development District that will allow the 28-unit Sandy Hollow Cove workforce housing project to be built in Tuckahoe.
Each of the board members made lengthy and heartfelt statements explaining their decisions before casting their “aye” votes, after taking more than an hour of mostly negative comments, primarily from neighbors of the site, who have gathered more than 800 signatures on petitions opposing the project.
Developers had initially proposed a 16-unit owner-occupied condominium project on the site that would have had a maximum occupancy of 64 people, but last fall proposed a new development that would have had 34 smaller units.
This spring, they pitched a new proposal that would have two buildings instead of three and just 28 apartments. The maximum occupancy of the project is now 46 residents, and, with recent additions made by Councilwoman Christine Scalera, a portion of them will be set aside for seniors, volunteer first responders and veterans. Developers Georgica Green have also agreed to pay $15,000 per year, with inflation adjustments, in lieu of property taxes on the site.
“We are charged with making difficult decisions,” said Ms. Scalera, who added that the property was zoned for affordable housing in 2009. “This property has been on the zoning map so designated since then.”
Ms. Scalera added that she spent many hours working with opponents of the project to try to make it more palatable and that she was very offended by their insinuation that their concerns were not met.
“These are tough decisions and they are not popular ones,” she said. “I assure everyone I have listened to everyone.”
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said she believes the project is a drop in the bucket compared with the 1,100 to 7,500 affordable housing units that housing consultants have told the town it needs by 2020.
“Everyone knows how strongly I feel about providing affordable housing,” she said. “I don’t think in my seat I can continue to ignore it.”
Ms. Fleming added that she is frustrated that the opposition has only grown as the project has shrunk in size.
“This proposal that we’re looking at right now is pretty drastically different from the 16 and 34 units originally proposed,” she said. “I’m very proud if this town board is able to move forward to meet the needs of members of the community who are unable to afford to live here.”
Councilman Brad Bender, who has often opposed scattered affordable rentals in Flanders, said his opposition to those types of projects does not make him an opponent of other methods of affordable housing.
“What’s going to happen when we push everybody out of here and don’t have them around anymore?” he said. “How much more are we going to ask of our young people who try to afford to live here?”
Councilman Stan Glinka said he could see the faces of several people in the crowd at town hall who had struggled to stay in Southampton, and pointed out the success of the now-ten-year-old Bridgehampton Mews affordable houses on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.
He added that residents of the Sandy Hollow Cove project would be required to meet income guidelines of between $60,000 and $85,000 per year, putting them well above the range of people who qualify for Section 8 housing.
“This is probably one of the most difficult decisions we’ve all had to make,” he said, adding that he hopes the project enables schoolteachers, nurses, doctors and town hall employees to stay in Southampton.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst praised her fellow town board members for making the decision “from their hearts.”
“It is a privilege to work with all of you,” she said, then added to the audience: “I hope you can appreciate, for those of you who can, how hard this decision is for us. Whether you appreciate this decision or not, it comes from the heart. Our town is a big town with a lot of needs. It is our job to make sure we do the best we can for everyone in this community.”
No one in the audience applauded the vote.