Southold Seeks to Attract Affordable Housing Developers

Raising the second wall of the first Habitat for Humanity house in Orient.
Raising the second wall last winter of the only Habitat for Humanity house in Southold, which is struggling to house its workforce.

Southold Town is considering changes to the town code to allow more affordable housing units per acre, in an attempt to incentivize construction of affordable housing.

The town has pitched a zoning code amendment that would allow developers to build 12 affordable apartment or condominium units per acre, if they submit to the requirements of the town’s affordable housing program, for a maximum of 24 units per project. Current zoning allows six units per acre.

The town board would also have the authority to grant up to 36 units per site by decreasing the square footage of each unit.

Developers looking to build affordable projects would need to go through a public hearing before the town board for a change of zone to “Affordable Housing District” and would have to select tenants who meet the income and residency requirements for affordable housing.

Comment was generally favorable at a May 31 public hearing, and many people offered helpful suggestions that the town board decided to take into consideration before voting to approve the zoning changes.

But Raymond Fedymak of Mattituck said he’s worried that the changes could make Southold look like Queens.

“I think it’s just detrimental when you start putting more apartments into an area,” he said. “I think it’s inconsiderate to people who already live in the town.”

Debbie O’Kane asked that the code include stipulations to make the buildings energy efficient.

Robert Dunn of Peconic said he’s been traveling to the South Fork early in the morning on a regular basis, and he sees there what lack of affordable housing does to the community.

“If you go to the Hamptons at 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday, it takes you as long as it takes to get to Manhattan,” he said. “People who work in the Hamptons can’t afford to live in the Hamptons. Unless we want to find ourselves with Long Island Expressway traffic on the Main Road, we need to do this. The people who do the work have to drive in from western Long Island.”

Councilman Bob Ghosio agreed.

“All the back roads now are the bypasses” on the South Fork, he said, adding that the back roads on the South Fork are just as conjested as Montauk Highway. “I could just see Oregon Road becoming a bypass.”

Kathryn Sepenoski, who works at the Port of Egypt marina, said between employees needed for the marina and the Heron Harbor Suites motel next door and her family’s farmstand, Sep’s, in East Marion, she’s seen first-hand what the lack of affordable housing does to Southold’s workforce.

She said she has two sons who went away to college and haven’t come back to the North Fork to live.

“This is reality housing. This isn’t affordable housing,” she said. “This is people keeping our businesses open.”

Matthew Edwards works for the Walsh Park Benevolent Corporation of Fishers Island, which was established in 1987 to build affordable housing on the island.

The association has built 27 units, and living in those units are now 30 percent of the island’s year-round population, 50 percent of the island’s first responders and 40 percent of students in the school.

“Hopefully we’ll have some new properties going up” if Southold changes the code, he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said he’d like to see affordable housing be placed close to hamlet centers, where people will have access to post offices, libraries, stores and public transportation. He also suggested that the density of the communities already there be taken into account before the density of the affordable housing is determined.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell was quick to point out that the housing will not be subsidized by Southold Town — the town is instead incentivizing private development by allowing more units per acre.

“In no instance will the town be subsidizing any of this,” he said. “We don’t have the money to do that anyway, but that’s not the intent of this legislation.”

He added that the residency requirements include documenting that tenants have already been residents of the community for three years. Preference will be given to people living within the same school district as the development before residents of other areas of town can move in, and tenants would verify their income each year.

“We’ve done an awful lot with land preservation and trying to maintain the traditional character of this town,” said Councilman Ghosio. “Part of that tradition is our small businesses here…. The jobs that are available aren’t high paying jobs where you could afford mortgages or rents over $2,500 a month. Unless the builders are incentivized to do something with us, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Councilman Jim Dinizio agreed, adding that there are so few young people in town that fire departments are having trouble finding able-bodied volunteers.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find 10 to 15 guys who can pull hose off the trucks” at a fire, he said. “We’re to the end of our rope here. Most of the law’s we’ve made just haven’t worked. We haven’t produced a single affordable house.”

The public hearing was closed, but the board tabled a vote on the legislation for two weeks.

“There were a lot of good comments tonight,” said Mr. Russell, adding that the board would like to look into incorporating those comments into the final legislation.

The full text of the proposed legislation is online here.

 

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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