The consultants working with Southold Town to revamp its zoning code have kicked off their work implementing zoning changes outlined in the town’s Comprehensive Plan, released in 2020.
Sean Suder, of the Ohio-based firm ZoneCo, and Sarah Brown of Hardesty & Hanover, who will be doing the public outreach on the zoning changes, were in town the week of Nov. 15 to get a sense of the land use here and meet with town staff.
“You’ve already done a lot of work to tell us what needs to be fixed in your Comprehensive Plan,” Mr. Suder told the town board at its Nov. 15 work session. “You’ve done a good job giving us a specific set of instructions and a road map of what needs to be fixed in the zoning code, which is unusual.”
The zoning updates recommended in the Comprehensive Plan include “strengthening hamlet centers through innovative, mixed-use zoning with consideration given to design standards,” creating a new zoning district for commercial and industrial uses along the major roads outside the hamlet centers, and evaluating “transitional zoning areas” between commercial and residential districts, similar to the residential office zoning district now in the Southold Town Code. It also called for ensuring marine zoning district uses “continue to support the goals of the town.”
The Comprehensive Plan also suggests allowing uses like “artist live-work development” in light industrial zoning districts, as well as cleaning up the zoning on properties that are in more than one zoning district, known as split-zoning.
In residential zoning districts, the Comprehensive Plan recommends addressing water quality, the size of future homes, limiting transient rentals, definitions of agricultural uses (which are allowed in residential zones), and pre-existing, non-conforming commercial use in residential districts.
Mr. Suder said that, in addition to updating the zoning, his firm will tackle cleaning up the town code, eliminating inconsistencies and the need to refer to other zoning districts for lists of uses, removing obsolete terminology and providing more clarity about the development process.
Southold last did a major zoning code update in 1971, based on the code that was initially put in place in 1957.
“This is still primarily a residential and agricultural community, with a small town and rural character,” said Mr. Suter. “You have 19 zoning districts … the land use here is fairly simple. You don’t have the complexity of land use they have in a larger community. Does 19 zoning districts make sense?… The code could be much simpler and still be effective.”
Mr. Suter said the update process would likely take between 14 and 16 months, the first part of which, diagnosing the problems with the current code, would take about two months, followed by making the actual changes, which he said would involve community input gathered by Ms. Brown, of Hardesty & Hanover. The team will be developing a community engagement plan.
When asked whether it would be appropriate for the town to instate a building moratorium during the rezoning process, Mr. Suter deferred to the town’s legal counsel, but said that most building moratoriums are for just six months, with a possibility of a six month renewal.
Big House Redo
When Southold Town adopted its new law regulating the size of houses on Oct. 18, a portion of the most recent draft of the law was not included in the public notice that appeared in newspapers, which led the code as noticed in the paper to be different than the code that was drafted and on the town’s website prior to the Oct. 18 hearings.
The town board agreed at its Nov. 15 meeting to place the correct public hearing notice in the newspapers, including the language that reads “the maximum gross floor area restrictions imposed… shall not be applicable to any project otherwise subject to the restrictions, for which a construction application has been submitted for approval to any State, County or Town of Southold department or discretionary board, prior to the enactment date of this section. Following the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, the structure shall be deemed preexisting non-confirming,” which was absent the last time.
The new public hearing will be held at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting at 4:30 p.m., at which time the board is expected to adopt the code they intended to adopt in October.