Affordable housing is becoming a lightning rod in Southampton, Southold has finally approved zoning for Plum Island and Riverhead is gearing up for a primary election. With Labor Day on the horizon, East End governments are getting back to work.
For the second time this month, the Southampton Town Board faced down a marathon public hearing Tuesday over rezoning property in the interest of affordable housing east of the Shinnecock Canal.
Two weeks ago, as reported here, Southampton heard hours of concerns from neighbors of 40 proposed townhouses just east of the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays as part of the proposed redevelopment of the Canoe Place Inn on the west side of the canal. The town is considering creating a planned development district for that project. A large number of people turned out to air mixed opinions on that project, with some, including staff at Southampton Hospital, saying there is a dire need for affordable housing for hospital workers, while neighbors of the property and environmentalists were less-than-fond of the project.
But even farther east of the canal, in Tuckahoe, which is just to the northwest of Southampton proper, the tension over whether to create a planned development district to build 34 studio and one bedroom rental apartments was even higher.
Opponents of the project wondered why the number of apartments was doubled from earlier versions of the plan, while proponents said earlier versions called for 16 two bedroom apartments instead of 34 one bedrooms or studios, effectively keeping the number of people living there static.
The project is slated to be built over a sensitive aquifer, and while proponents said it would have a state-of-the-art BabyBesst sewage treatment system, opponents questioned why construction was being done there at all. The environmental report on the project is available here.
Many proponents who came to speak were young people who were raised in Southampton Town, but said they can barely afford to live there now.
“Growing up in a working class family, I understand how high the rent is here,” said Eric Saldivar, who is heading to college. “How am I going to come back from college and pay rent?”
Matthew Feeny, who is 34 years old and grew up in East Quogue, said he doubts he will ever have his own home.
“At this age, I have to live in a house with three other people. It’s impossible to find anything that’s affordable,” he said.
Some proponents of affordable housing said the tiny units, which by code will only be able to be occupied by one or two people, will not help families.
“Where can a caretaker stay doing an overnight?” asked Arlene Schroeder. “Where can a single parent stay?”
Spencer Cannon, who just finished his senior year of high school, said without a project like Sandy Hollow Cove, he probably won’t be able to come home. His grandmother, Gloria Cannon, said that would be a shame.
“I’m a taxpayer living here over 50 years,” she said. “We’d love for him to come back here. As it stands now, there’s no place you can rent or house you can buy, it’s so expensive here.”
Nicholas Thomas, who grew up in Bridgehampton but now lives in Brookhaven and commutes to work in Southampton, said he would like to move home.
“One message we all pretty much teach our kids is you never forget where you come from,” he said.
Pamela Greinke, whose 27-year-old son still lives with her in Southampton, said her rent is currently 75 percent of her income.
“My son moved away from town and came back. His only options are to live with me or to move away again. I love him but I don’t want him to be living with me when he’s 40,” she said. “This type of project would benefit someone like him.”
Many opponents who live near the project wondered why the units would be rented and not owned.
Joe Lofredo, who lives in East Hampton, said he lived in affordable housing when he was injured at work and his daughter was sick. He said he would never do so again.
“That was the worst five years of my life…. When I tried to get out of there they wanted to keep us in there,” he said. “They didn’t want us to leave. Once we were in there, there was no incentive to do better with our lives.”
John Cupaloski, who lives in North Sea, said he’d heard the project would double the fire load on the North Sea water main, and if for some reason the main wasn’t working, there would be no fire protection for Sandy Hollow Cove.
“Thirty four units on 2.6 acres is not appropriate for this site,” said Tim Corwin, adding that the BabyBesst sewage treatment plant is “totally untried.”
“We’re all in favor of affordable housing but there are lots of other options,” he said. “You can’t raise a family in a one bedroom or a studio.”
Minerva Perez of Sag Harbor, who is the director of The Retreat’s shelter for battered women, said she has trouble finding workers who face similar situations to one she faced before she was able to buy a home.
“I’m a college educated single mom. I rented $1,400 winter rentals, moved out every summer and moved back. I love my community and am happy to be a positive contributor,” she said, adding that after years of renting, she was finally able to buy her own home.
“Trying to staff a 24-hour crisis center with people who do not have to drive two or more hours to work is one of my biggest challenges,” she said.
Bonnie Cannon, of the town’s housing development agency, said affordable housing has been on the back burner too long in Southampton Town.
“Studies after studies show there is a need for affordable housing. You paid people for this,” she told the town board. “Look at your facts. Do something!”
“This was 16 two bedroom units. Now we’re talking about 34 one bedroom units. Do the math. It’s the same size,” she said. “I was a renter. I was born and raised here. I went off to college. Individuals need to rent so they can move themselves up so we can own a home. I know individuals on Section 8 who are going to nursing school. This is not a Section 8 project. We’re talking about professionals: nurses, our seniors. Listen to the facts. Stop listening to rumors and innuendos. In three administrations nothing has happened. It has everything to do with you guys [on the town board] doing the right thing.”
The board held open the public hearing.
After months of tweaking, the Southold Town Board unanimously approved two zoning districts for the 840-acre Plum Island Tuesday, effectively ensuring the island will remain a research facility with a large conservation area where limited building is allowed.
On Tuesday, only one member of the public, Marie Domenici, commented on the zoning, asking who would be responsible for the cleanup of numerous brownfields, environmentally contaminated sites on the island, which is currently a federally owned animal disease research laboratory.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the liability for the cleanup rests with the federal government.
Councilman Bill Ruland thanked Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who was a Southold Town Councilman until this year, for originally suggesting that Southold zone the island.
“Al Krupski said two years ago we really ought to do this,” he said. “Thanks to our planning department, who in the midst of a comprehensive plan were able to address this particular issue. Some people thought this was very sticky and some people thought it was very straightforward. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’ve certainly taken a step in the right direction.”
Riverhead held a work session Thursday to discuss a request for proposals for the former New York State Armory building on Route 58 into a police and court complex and to increase buffers between commercial development and residential areas.
Riverhead also had a whole heck of a lot of fun election drama at a debate between primary candidates at the Suffolk Theater Monday night.