The Southampton Town Board voted 3-2 at a special meeting Thursday afternoon to consider a zone change application for a controversial workforce housing and retail complex proposed for North Phillips Avenue in Speonk.
The board called a special meeting just to adopt the resolution due to time-sensitive issues dealing with federal tax credits, said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman before voting to consider the application.
The original “Speonk Commons” proposal for the 4.28-acre property was for 51 housing units, with retail shops and offices along the street frontage on North Phillips Avenue, just south of the Speonk Long Island Rail Road station.
But in recent conversations with the community, developers Georgica Green Ventures have agreed that the zone change application will consider no more than 38 housing units. The full text of the resolution is online here.
The front acre-and-a-half of the property along the street is zoned for village business, and the back portion is zoned for half-acre residential lots.
Georgica Green is asking the town to consider slightly modifying the line between the village business and residential zoning districts, and rezone the back portion of the property to MF-44, a multi-family housing zoning designation that would allow 12 units per acre.
Town council members John Bouvier and Julie Lofstad joined the supervisor in voting to consider the application, while council members Stan Glinka and Christine Scalera voted against the proposal.
The board has already held two public work sessions on the project, one of which was held at the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School to allow more members of the community to attend.
Thursday’s vote is not to approve the proposal, but to agree to bring it before the board for a formal public hearing and review process.
But Councilman Glinka said he was not asked by other board members to participate in discussions with the community.
“I do not appreciate not being part of the negotiations and talking with the community and constituents from the Speonk-Remsenburg area,” he said before casting his no vote. “I cannot in good faith at this point support this.”
Councilwoman Scalera agreed.
“I’m not quite comfortable with where we are or where we have been for a couple weeks,” she said before casting her no vote. “I will not be supporting this.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he’s trying to find common ground between the community and the developer, “making the numbers work in a way that it can be made affordable.”
“The complexity at 38 [units] is it may require additional subsidies that may not be available later on,” he said.
Architect Bill Chaleff agreed with Mr. Schneiderman’s position during a brief public comment period before the vote.
“I think the site can handle a lot more without any negative impacts on traffic and the environment,” he said. “This should go ahead. The need in the township is variously estimated to be between 6,000 and 8,000 units, and we have to get as many as we can. Thirty-eight seems like a very small beginning.”
Mr. Chaleff added that he believes “very, very few sites in the township” are as appropriate as this one for affordable housing.
“I can’t endorse this more strongly, because of the appropriateness of the site,’ he said.
Vince Taldone of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association said that “we in Riverside and Northampton have done our part in supporting affordable housing. Half of all new housing in our redevelopment area are condos and rentals that will be affordable. We are doing our fair share, and we’re hoping the rest of the town does, because they need to be distributed throughout the town.”
Mr. Taldone added that he’d been on a working group that had looked at the 41 North Phillips Avenue site before, and found that 28 affordable units would not be economically viable for a developer.
“Fifty-one units, I think that’s great, but that’s not my community,” he said. “If this community thinks something less dense will work, I’m thrilled. The rest of this is really going to be between the developer, the housing authority and the community. But 38 is sort of a limit to a number that can make it work.”
Craig Catalanotto, a founding member of the group Remsenburg, Eastport, Speonk Communities United, or RESCU, told the board that his group sees “the 38 unit model as a viable starting point for a conversation, and a fair compromise.”
“Our hope is that it’s a density-neutral exchange in terms of actual human beings that live on the property,” he said, adding that the zoning change itself is “still problematic for us.”
“Our community is uniquely set up for overdevelopment,” he added. “By accepting increased density here, we need further protections to offset increased density elsewhere.”
Philip Smyth of the Remsenburg Association said there were “less than 24 hours between when the full details of the meeting agenda were made clear to us and the actual commencement of the meeting today.”
“The community is still forced to pass judgement on a really complicated real estate proposal on a somewhat rushed basis,” he added. “Going ahead, the devil will be in the details — the placement of the sewage treatment facility, what protections is the town willing to guarantee to the community. It needs to be made quite explicit the degree to which sensitive open space areas in town are protected.”
Long Island Housing Services Deputy Director Ian Wilder said that the Fair Housing Act requires affordable housing to be spread throughout a municipality. He added that “exclusionary preferences,” such as saying that people who currently live in the area get dibs on the housing, have become legally problematic.
“They should be looked at very carefully and if possible avoided,” he added. “We’re hoping at least some of these will be truly affordable. Eighty percent of area median income is still too much for a lot of people.”