Keenly aware of its potential to rival the Hamptons as a second-home destination for the super-rich, Southold Town is working to limit some of those extravagances, including excessive irrigation and oversized houses on small lots.

The Southold Town Board has also just unanimously enacted a one-year moratorium on processing of applications for new hotels, motels and resorts.

Irrigation Law in the Works

Southold Town’s Water Advisory Committee has been working this year on proposed legislation to require rain or soil moisture sensors on new automatic irrigation systems, and on substantial expansion of existing systems.

The proposal would likely limit the unnecessary use of water by residential, institutional and commercial water users — regardless of whether they have wells or public water, but would not affect irrigation practices on farms, Water Advisory Committee members told the Southold Town Board at its June 18 work session.

It’s a proposal that was championed by Southold Town Supervisor Al Krupski in 2023 when he served on the Suffolk County Legislature, but it had little support at the time, “for many reasons, not many of which had to do with water conservation,” said Mr. Krupski when the water committee first brought the proposal to the town board in February of this year.

Water Advisory Committee Members John Stype, Maggie Merrill and Kate Daly returned again June 18 to discuss the proposal.

“What are we doing? We’re saving homeowners money, and supporting irrigation professionals to have the best practices,” Ms. Daly told the board. “It’s a systems-level change that doesn’t require individual persuasion.”

Mr. Stype recommended the town talk with irrigation installers about the proposal and get them involved in the drafting of the law this fall, once their busy season is over, and decide on how a potential permit would be structured and what the penalties would be for non-compliance.

“How would you enforce it? Would the fine go to the installer or the homeowner? We didn’t get into that,” he said.

Ms. Merrill said she has been compiling irrigation codes from other municipalities, and that the committee would like to use those codes, and Mr. Krupski’s draft Suffolk County law as templates.

She added that codes that restrict irrigation using odd-even day watering schedules have proved difficult to enforce, and difficult to program into automatic irrigation systems.

Joyce Novak, Executive Director of the Peconic Estuary Partnership (PEP), participated in the meeting via Zoom, and she said PEP also has pages of model codes that it can share with the town.

“Southold, in particular, has a large agricultural community, and at some point maybe a code needs to prioritize that over somebody’s lawn for water use,” she said. “You might need to potentially come up with a metric for when you can’t water your lawn — maybe nobody waters their lawn for five years until we reassess the situation.”

Councilman Greg Doroski said he would also like to address tanker trucks that fill up from hydrants throughout Southold Town and then take water other places, including Shelter Island, which bans the filling of pools from its own limited aquifer. Shelter Island also bans irrigation of lawns.

“It seems like a classic tragedy of the commons,” he said. “With a free resource, people take and take until it’s gone.”

“We have pools all around us — the Sound and the Bay,” added Councilwoman Jill Doherty.

Town Engineer Michael Collins, who was also at the work session to present several updates to streamline and clarify town and state stormwater management codes that are up for public hearing at the 4:30 p.m. afternoon meeting June 18, said irrigation systems can also cause damage to the town’s stormwater infrastructure.

“Regulating irrigation would be a great help to us,” he said. “Sometimes (Highway Superintendent) Dan Goodwin and I are called out to a flood only to find out someone’s irrigation system has been flowing out, 24/7, into one of our drains. Nothing destroys a road faster than having water sit on it.”

Ms. Daly said the Water Advisory Committee meets on the first Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Southold Town Hall meeting room, and the group welcomes the public to join the conversation there.

Town Board members asked the Water Committee to come up with a draft town code to send to the town’s Code Committee, and to come back to a work session later this summer to present further on their work.


big_houses
A large house under construction in New Suffolk, on the North Fork, before the big house code was enacted.

Verity: Big House Legislation is Working

Southold Town Chief Building Inspector Mike Verity also told the Town Board at its June 18 work session that the town’s large house rules setting limits on the floor area of houses relative to the lot size and on overall height, are working.

The large house law went into full effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“It took houses down to half of what they used to be — where you could build a 4,000-square-foot house, you can build 2,100 square feet, max,” he said, adding that the code was structured with clear restrictions.

He said the maximum height and gross floor area are both numbers that “you can’t finagle.”

He also pointed out that the Gross Floor Area calculation also includes Accessory Dwelling Units, which the town is looking to encourage as part of its affordable housing plan.

Mr. Verity said the public will likely continue to see some houses that were approved under the old code be built over the next few years, until existing permits begin to expire.

He said his office is now sending about two proposals per month to the Zoning Board of Appeals for variance requests, when it had never sent such requests to the ZBA before.

“That’s a whole other conversation,” he said.

Councilwoman Doherty suggested the Town Board have that conversation with the ZBA.

“We don’t want variances to undermine the intent of the big house law,” said Mr. Krupski. “We have to have everyone get in compliance with the spirit of the big house law.”


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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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