Southold Poised to Restrict Big Houses

Pictured Above: New construction on the North Fork has begun to echo the extravagance of The Hamptons, dwarfing longstanding modest homes.

The Southold Town Board may vote as soon as July 5 on a proposed series of code changes limiting the size of houses that can be built in this rural township at the end of the North Fork.

The code changes, in the works for more than a year, would limit the size of houses on a sliding scale based on the size of the building lot.

This code change, in the works for just over a year and modeled after similar codes in neighboring towns, comes about as Southold has been faced with rampant development, particularly over the last two years, as developers replace modest homes on small lots throughout the town with large homes more typically seen on the South Fork than the North.

If approved, on a quarter-acre lot, the maximum house size would be 2,100 square feet, while the maximum house size on lots between one and two acres would be 5,100 square feet, plus five percent of the area in excess of one acre, with a maximum of 7,100 square feet. The maximum for lots larger than five acres would be 10,100 square feet plus one percent of any additional lot area in excess of five acres.

Comments on the proposal were generally supportive at a June 21 public hearing before the town board, particularly from members of the North Fork Civics, a coalition of civic groups that has taken an interest in working with the town on implementing its Comprehensive Plan released last year.

“It was predictable that the North Fork would be in the target zone of anyone who could say ‘that’s a beautiful place. I want to build a huge house there,” said Drianne Benner of Orient, one of the leaders of the civic coalition. “This is not new news. This is part of a plan that you’ve been talking about for a long, long time. This still allows for fairly large homes. There is flexibility in this code.”

Attorney Patricia Moore said she believes that “if you go back to (the year) 1800 or 1600, this community has always been a mix of large homes for the wealthier and small cottages for fishermen,” she said, adding that she wasn’t invited to participate in any of the meetings with the civic associations, and she believes there will be a groundswell of people seeking variances from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, overloading the already overworked board, if the change is adopted.

Zoning Board Chairwoman Leslie Weisman begged to differ.

“We are burdened now with houses being built on lots where they can have a blank slate (under the current zoning), yet they come in with three, four or five variance requests,” she said. “The reason we’re so delayed is because there are so many buildings being constructed here.”

She added that the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously supports the proposal.

“We must manage change responsibly.”

Nick Krupski of the Southold Town Trustees also read a letter from the Trustees supporting the proposal.

“Month after month, we get applications, mostly from expeditors and attorneys, that apply for monstrous houses. There’s nothing in our code to address this, but we mitigate disasters as much as we can. This code will help us change that.”

“Every month, someone new comes in saying ‘this is my dream house. I’m going to live here forever, and then it’s listed on Zillow for 3.4 million two years after it’s done.”

“I know historic homes in Southold better than most people do,” said Robert Harper, a former member of the town’s Historicl Preservation Commission, responding to Ms. Moore’s comments. “In the 1600s, houses were around 800 square feet, because that was what was practical then. This is a very, very recent thing on the North Fork…. If you want a house like that, I’m sure the Hamptons will welcome you. It’s come. It’s in our backyard, and it’s not appropriate for who we are or our history.

The Town Board could vote on the zoning changes as soon as its next meeting July 5.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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