After months of debate over whether they should put a referendum on this November’s ballot to create a half percent real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing, the Southold Town Board has agreed to move forward with the possibility of a vote this November.
The board has voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on whether to put the referendum on the ballot at a special meeting on Tuesday morning, Aug. 2 at 9 a.m.
The town board has been debating for months whether to hold the referendum this November, as both South Fork towns and Shelter Island are planning to do, or to hold off until next November, after the town drafts an affordable housing plan to accompany the fund. While other towns are farther along in completing their plans, Southold has just recently hired a consultant to work on its plan.
“If we’re developing a plan, the public might have an idea of where we’re going,” said Town Supervisor Scott Russell at the board’s July 19 meeting, saying he would consider a referendum this year “as long as the public has an expectation of what will be in the plan and it’s not a blind vote.”
“We will at least be at the point where we’re articulating our priorities (by November),” said Councilman Greg Doroski.
The Community Housing Fund program is modeled on the Community Preservation Fund, in which a 2 percent real estate transfer tax is use to fund land preservation in the five East End towns. If the referendum passes, each East End town would have its own Community Housing Fund that it could use for providing first time homebuyer assistance, building affordable housing and ensuring that existing housing remains affordable. Those guidelines would be set by each town through the creation of its own Affordable Housing Plan, and no money could be spent until the plan is adopted.
Mr. Doroski said the town could bring in an estimated $3 million in revenue in the coming year if the referendum passes this November — a compelling reason to not wait until the following year for a vote.
“Everyone realizes there’s an affordable housing crisis in Southold Town,” said Mr. Doroski at the board’s July 19 meeting. “It would be very troubling to me if we put it up to a vote and people, out of one side of their mouth, said ‘there’s a crisis,’ and out of the other side didn’t vote for it.”
The Southold Town Board also voted on July 19 to table a resolution approving a zone change for the proposed 24-unit Cutchogue Woods affordable housing development on Route 48. After board members appeared unlikely to approve the change at that morning’s work session, developer David Gallo asked the board that evening to table the resolution for 30 days. The board voted 4-2 to grant him this request, with some skepticism.
Mr. Russell, who voted against tabling the resolution, said that if the developers plan to make changes to the proposal, they’d need to present it to the public again at a new public hearing, making it unnecessary to prolong the time until the vote.
“He has a right to reapply if (the resolution) is defeated,” said Mr. Russell.
While many people spoke in favor of the housing complex at two public hearings earlier this summer, others raised concerns that the project would be in an undeveloped area outside of the center of a hamlet.
Councilwoman Sarah Nappa wasn’t buying that argument.
“I feel like the town and the community give a lot of lip service to housing,” she said at the July 19 work session. “For everyone to say this is a crisis and do nothing for 20 years is disgraceful.”
“I would say location is the biggest issue, but there is no right location,” she added. “We have seen them closer to hamlet centers, but what is the right property? There is no right property. There’s a lot of the perfect getting in the way of the good at this location.… The fact that the area around this parcel is preserved is justification for putting a development there. There are no immediate neighbors.”
Other board members were more convinced that the housing should be in a hamlet center.
“My fear is that you start with one, and the next one comes, and the next one,” said Justice Louisa Evans. “Once we go down that road, we’re just gonna put it wherever it comes up.”
“Should we be looking at expanding the halo zones (areas around a hamlet center) and targeting other sites?” said Councilman Greg Doroski. “All of this is a consideration of moral values and tradeoffs.”
Ms. Nappa said that it seemed to her that expanding hamlet centers would look more like sprawl than building this complex amid preserved land.
Also at the July 19 meeting, the board tabled a vote on legislation limiting the size of houses in Southold for two weeks, while they look into the possibility of changing some aspects of the legislation regarding a formula known as the “pyramid law” designed to keep houses from being too tall, which could negatively impact houses on small lots.
“If we can fix it all next week and redraft it, we will,” said Mr. Russell. “Most of us are ready to move forward with the language as drafted.”
The board is slated to hold a meeting July 26 at 2 p.m. to discuss this matter further.