(L-R) Southold Town Board candidates Anne Smith and Gwynn Schroeder, Supervisor candidates Al Krupski and Donald Grim and Town Board candidates Steven Kiely and Jill Doherty.
Like much of the East End, Southold Town has experienced a development boom in the years since the pandemic. The town, which is about to embark on an update of its zoning code based on a Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2020, has also just adopted a housing plan to guide the use of its Community Housing Fund, in the midst of much public pushback against affordable housing complexes.
A tourist hotspot, Southold’s environment and small family farms are a major player in its economy, and many of the questions at two debates sponsored by the North Fork Civics at CAST in Southold and Poquatuck Hall in Orient in October centered on how to best protect the town’s rural environment and its fragile coastline.
This year’s Town Supervisor candidates are Democratic Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who also runs his family’s Krupski Farms in Peconic, and Republican Donald Grim, who runs a towing and recycling business and is a volunteer firefighter.
There are two seats in the running for Town Board. Incumbent Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who has been on the board for 11 years, most recently as Deputy Supervisor, after decades in roles with the Town Trustees, is running on the Republican ticket, along with Stephen Kiely, a lawyer who serves as the Shelter Island Town Attorney.
Gwynn Schroeder, a longtime aide to Mr. Krupski and an environmental advocate who formerly helmed the North Fork Environmental Council, and former Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent Anne Smith are running on the Democratic ticket. Incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Sarah Nappa is not seeking re-election.
Mr. Krupski, long an advocate for land preservation, said at the Orient forum that he saw a “funded and mechanically functional” land preservation program as a key to avoiding a complete build-out that he said officials at the Suffolk County Health Department had told him they’d anticipated, in which “Levittown would be folded out all the way to Montauk. There was really a lack of consideration for the impacts on traffic, public safety, schools and the burden it puts on the environment.”
Mr. Grim said he would “get involved with every hamlet individually and look at their needs” when mitigating development. “Some areas can develop a little more than others.”
In addition to hiring a consultant to help complete its zoning update, current Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has budgeted $100,000 to start work next year on a coastal resiliency plan.
Mr. Krupski applauded the funding, and said agencies throughout the town, including the Town Trustees, where he served for 20 years before serving on the Southold Town Board for eight years, along with the town’s regulatory partners will “have to work on these long-term issues.”
He added that an Army Corps of Engineers project that shored up downtown Montauk’s beaches with sandbags had resulted in “a real loss of beach,” in addition to being very controversial within the community.
“It’s difficult to operate without public input, which is when government is most effective,” he added.
Mr. Grim, who said that as a volunteer with the Cutchogue Fire Department he’s helped rescue people from flooding in areas where they said they’d never experienced flooding before, said he doesn’t think $100,000 is going to be enough “in today’s market when we want to do work on the coastline.”
Town Board candidates had a lot to say about affordable housing — Ms. Doherty was the town board’s liaison to the town’s Housing Advisory Commission, which drafted the Community Housing Plan, while Ms. Smith served as a volunteer member of the commission.
Ms. Doherty said it’s going to take all of the priorities outlined in the plan — from repurposing existing homes as multi-family units to building accessory apartments to providing first-time homebuyer loans — to make a dent in the housing crisis.
Ms. Smith, drawing on her experience in education and school administration, focused in many of her comments on how to gather large groups of people together to implement complex goals.
She said she believes the next step in the housing plan is to “get into each hamlet and have focus group conversations. We need to set benchmarks within each hamlet.”
Mr. Kiely said he also supported Ms. Doherty’s priorities, but made clear that he’s “a hard no on high density apartment complexes. It is the anthesis of our community character.”
On the campaign trail, Mr. Kiely has also been lambasting Democratic New York Governor Kathy “High Density Hochul’s plan,” shot down by the State Legislature earlier this year, to require towns allow dense housing to be built around train stations on Long Island even if local zoning doesn’t permit it. Local state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were opposed to the governor’s plan, pointing out that it violated the state’s Home Rule laws and doesn’t even make sense in an area that has so little train service.
Mr. Kiely added that he would like to use the Community Housing Fund to provide loans to non-profit developers to build manor homes, which look like single family houses but would have three rental units in them. He also said he would crack down on short-term rentals, and ensure that accessory dwelling units only be rented to people on the town’s community housing registry.
Ms. Schroeder, who lives in Cutchogue and had served on the town’s Cutchogue hamlet stakeholder group, said the different hamlets have different needs within their hamlet centers, and the hamlet center in Cutchogue “is very tight.”
She said she wanted to learn more about why people aren’t taking advantage of accessory dwelling unit incentive programs, and she’d also like to see the town purchase land with Community Housing Fund money and request specific proposals for housing on that land from developers.
“That way we can let them know what we want, and keep that affordability in perpetuity,” she said. “But we can’t build our way out of this. I grew up in Brooklyn and I don’t want to see Southold look like Brooklyn.”
On what can be done about “forever chemicals” like carcinogenic perfluorinated compounds once used as fire retardants and non-stick surfaces that are turning up in private wells on the East End, Ms. Smith said it’s “really important to look at where we can regulate, and where we can educate,” adding that homeowners with private wells should be informed about the importance of having their water tested.
Ms. Schroeder said that “we’re at a crossroads” in the balance between clean, potable water and the increase in development that often occurs when public water is brought to a community.
“The Suffolk County Water Authority wants to bring in a $40 million pipe” to Southold along Peconic Bay Boulevard, she said. “But they say it’s going to be used primarily for lawn irrigation.”
Ms. Doherty said she wholeheartedly supports the town’s new Water Committee, and asked the community for support in gathering information on water quality and quantity issues.
Mr. Kiely said he would introduce legislation setting limits on irrigation if he was on the town board.
When asked how to create good jobs, Ms. Smith said that while the town board doesn’t create jobs, the cost of housing is making it very difficult for young people to live in the hosing that is here, and said she would work to encourage programs like the new Eastern Suffolk BOCES carpentry program that prepares Mattituck High School students for careers in the trades.
Ms. Schroeder, who had a long career as a registered nurse before her government and advocacy work, agreed.
“We do have good jobs here,” she said, citing Eastern Long Island Hospital, the Peconic Landing retirement community and San Simeon by the Sound nursing and rehabilitation facility, as well as jobs in local schools and some high-tech manufacturing companies. “The problem is, the people who work in those jobs don’t live here. I was a nurse. I made good money, but nurses today just can’t afford to live here.”
Ms. Doherty said she works to advocate for the agriculture and aquaculture industries and small business needs on the Town Board, but she agreed that housing is the key.
“Eighty percent of our workforce lives outside of Southold Town,” she said.
“Jobs connected with our environment. That’s where I would focus my efforts,” said Mr. Kiely, pledging to support farmers if elected to the board.
Mr. Krupski, whose farm on the Main Road in Peconic was selling pumpkins on the only sunny Saturday this fall while he answered questions in Poquatuck Hall, reminded the crowd that “our environment is our economy” in his closing statement, and said that he wants hamlet stakeholder groups to reconvene if he is elected.
“We need a lot of community engagement,” he said.
In one of the most contentious races in Southold this year, incumbent Democratic Town Justice Dan Ross is running against Republican Brian Hughes, a former Town Justice who lost his seat to Mr. Ross by 27 votes four years ago.
Mr. Hughes, who through much of his campaign has aired his concerns about criminals being let out of jail due to Democratic state bail reform, has been saying on the campaign trail that he was the only candidate in the race who had been deemed a “qualified judicial candidate” by the Suffolk County Bar Association. His comments were later printed without verification in the official newspaper of Southold Town.
At the CAST debate, Mr. Hughes also cited a section of the 2022 Southold Town Justice Review and Reform Task Force report, required by New York State in the aftermath of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, that said Mr. Ross relied on the district attorney to make deals, did not take the time to check the defendant’s understanding of charges, and did not state the charges defendants were pleading to and “also appeared a bit dismissive.”
The document, a series of recommendations for what the court can do better, did not single out Mr. Ross, one of three town justices, in its findings.
Mr. Ross, a member of the Suffolk County Bar Association since 1985, read aloud his August letter from the bar association deeming him qualified to run for justice at the Orient debate.
“It’s not a big surprise,” he said, adding that this is the fourth letter deeming him qualified to run for justice that he’s received in his career. “What do you do with that? What happens when your adversary makes a misstatement of facts?”
“I need to go to the justice court for an arraignment. Excuse my absence,” he said, and then quietly left the room after opening statements were completed.
An impatient member of the audience at the Orient debate also asked what the candidates would do when the “President and the Governor of New York State are pushing for felons to be released without bail. This is going to filter down to you, and I don’t know if there’s anything you can do, at this level, to address it.”
Mr. Krupski said that bail reform, like many other unfunded mandates from the state, has proven costly for Suffolk County, which has had to hire 42 new people in the District Attorney’s office to administer bail reform programs. He said the County Legislator had urged former Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the bill, to no avail.
“The local municipalities are affected by this. It does affect the local courts and courts houses,” he said. “As local officials we have to have good communication with all levels of government, so you can say ‘this is a problem, and why.’”
Our livestreams from both debates are below: