Pictured Above: The proposed parcel to be rezoned for affordable housing can be seen in the distance from the pitcher’s mound in the baseball field at Tasker Park
The majority of the Southold Town Board voted yes on a controversial proposal to rezone five acres of property on Carroll Avenue for affordable housing on Tuesday evening, April 11, and the board also unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on the consideration of Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) while the town works to develop code to address siting and safety concerns with these systems.
While both issues were closely watched by Southold residents, the affordable housing zoning proved more controversial, and many residents of Carroll Avenue reiterated their concerns during the public comment period before the vote. Ultimately, Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Councilwoman Louisa Evans voted against the proposal, while the other four board members voted yes.
The Carroll Avenue property, a total of 10 acres owned by Southold Town, had originally been slated to be the site of an indoor sports complex proposed by developer Paul Pawlowski, who later proposed to build 24 affordable rental cottages on the southern 5 acres of the site. Mr. Pawlowski recently said he does not plan to go forward with the sports complex.
The Town Board also voted in March to remove its cap of 24 units on lots proposed for affordable housing, after which Mr. Pawlowski suggested in a media interview that he would like to increase the project to 32 units. Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell quickly responded on social media, stating he wouldn’t support more than 24 units on the site. Mr. Pawlowski has since withdrawn the entire proposal.
Several people spoke up against the rezoning before the vote, including Mattituck Attorney Stephen Kiely, who is running on the Republican ticket for town board this November.
Mr. Kiely made the case that the town would be ‘alienating parkland’ by rezoning the property for affordable housing, since the town purchased the land for recreational use. Alienation of parkland by a municipality requires approval from the New York State Legislature.
“That’s a question of fact that would have to be litigated to make a determination on,” he said.
Peconic resident Neal Cichanowicz, whose family owns land adjacent to the town’s Carroll Avenue property, said he was initially pleased with the proposal for the sports complex, but found the housing “abhorrent and detrimental to the neighborhood,” adding that it would add 100 to 200 residents to “a hamlet that currently houses less than 800.”
Rona Smith, a longtime proponent of affordable housing on the North Fork, said she’d heard the “same vitriol about The Cottages in Mattituck.”
“In the 15 years the cottages have been there, there’s never been a problem,” she said. “Everyone points to those cottages as a very positive thing this town was engaged in. That was a long time ago. It’s time to do more. A lot of people in this town don’t have a place to live. Our entire economy depends on those people.”
Mr. Russell added that who gets the housing housing at this site would be governed by the town’s affordable housing program, which prioritizes volunteer firefighters and EMTs.
Carroll Avenue resident Lisa Rosa said she is a volunteer firefighter and an EMT and she also “works every single day to afford my house. I get affordable housing. I own my house because I busted my butt. I saved my money, and if people do that, they’re going to want to own a house.”
“This abuts right up to my house. Am I going to have to put barbed wire up?” she asked. “You’re going to be gone tomorrow and we’re going to be stuck with this.”
Mr. Russell and Ms. Evans cited the lack of a current proposed project in casting their ‘no’ votes on April 11.
“I do not want to change the zone until we have a more specific plan as to what can be developed there,” said Ms. Evans. “Should we have a good plan, I would be willing to change it, but I’m voting no at this point.”
“I’d like to echo what Councilwoman Louisa Evans said,” said Mr. Russell. “This was proposed for a specific project. That project has been withdrawn. I’m willing to reconsider, but I vote no.”
The majority of board members, however, said they believe there will be no perfect site for affordable housing, and they believe they have an obligation to address the severe lack of affordable housing here.
“I think there’s always challenges. There’s no perfect site,” said Councilwoman Sarah Nappa. “There’s no location where everyone is going to come out in favor. My vote is yes.”
“We can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good when the good is a real need in the community,” said Councilman Greg Doroski.
Mr. Doroski added that two resolutions adopted by the board later in the meeting — seeking requests for proposals for a sports complex on the northern portion of the Carroll Avenue property, and for another affordable housing proposal on the southern portion that would preferably involve an ownership option for future residents — should address some of the issues raised by Carroll Avenue residents.
“This will give the community the ability to partner with us to find a good solution for this parcel,” he said.
The RFP for the sports complex passed unanimously, while the RFP for the housing proposal passed in a 4-2 vote, with Mr. Russell and Ms. Evans voting against it.
Councilman Brian Mealy said that he hopes the town can “rectify where the board and the community stand, for the good of the community,” in casting his yes vote.
Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who serves as the Town Board’s liaison to the town’s Housing Review Board, said the town will “have to do a little bit of everything” to work its way out of the housing crisis.
“We’re looking at repurposing buildings, educating people of code changes,” she said. “These are tough decisions, and there is no perfect one.”
The board also voted Tuesday evening to rescind a January 2022 resolution executing a letter of intent for Pawlowski’s Sports East to purchase the Carroll Avenue property and to cancel his purchase contract.
The board also set a May 9 public hearing on changes to the town code involving accessory apartments, decreasing the minimum square footage of the apartments from 450 to 220 square feet, and changing the total percentage of square footage of the apartment from “40 percent of the livable floor area of the existing dwelling” to “25 percent of the habitable space of the entire residence based upon properly certified structures.” The update would also no longer require that the property by the principal residence of its owner. That hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m.
Unanimous Yes On Battery Storage Moratorium
Councilwoman Sarah Nappa has been vocal about her reluctance to support a moratorium on battery energy storage systems, but she cast a surprise ‘yes’ vote Tuesday night, citing “potential litigation,” making the vote in favor of the moratorium unanimous.
Ms. Nappa did read a statement saying that, while someone mentioned at a public hearing that the moratorium was “a symbolic gesture that gives trust that public officials will do the right thing.”
“I couldn’t disagree more,” she said. “This is just a symbolic gesture. We should roll up our sleeves as much as possible. I do not believe in governing by moratorium… That appeases an angry crowd. That is not leadership. A symbolic gesture is not trust. Action is trust.”
Ms. Nappa added that the town board had already taken action by creating a task force to write new code to address battery energy storage systems.
Mr. Russell said the town hadn’t taken action sooner because it had received “bad legal advice and were told we couldn’t.”
“I think it’s an essential ingredient in developing responsible legislation to oversee an industry that’s in its infancy,” he said of the moratorium. “We have received several resumés from highly qualified people, and that’s going to make for a very productive committee. I agree with Councilwoman Nappa that time is of the essence. A moratorium is necessary to give us the time and space to do that.”