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May 28, 2019 9:31 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Wants Smaller Lots Available For Affordable Apartments

May 28, 2019 12:35 PM

East Hampton Town has proposed reducing the minimum lot size required for a homeowner to create an accessory apartment in a detached structure, like a garage, in hopes of spurring the creation of more “affordable” rental housing options.

The proposal, which will be the subject of a public hearing at Town Hall on Thursday, June 6, would reduce the minimum lot size for detached accessory apartments from 40,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, or about three-quarters of an acre.

The reduction in the minimum lot size would make more than 1,400 additional residential parcels townwide eligible as sites for detached accessory apartments, either in an existing structure or through the construction of a new one.

The law will still allow a maximum of only 20 new accessory rental apartments to be created in each of the town’s five school districts, and 100 overall. Rents are capped according to a federal affordable housing pricing structure.

“All we are doing is allowing more property owners to potentially take advantage and provide affordable housing,” Councilman David Lys, who sponsored the legislation, said. “I don’t think decreasing the minimum lot area will change the character of the communities that we are trying to help here.”

The town created the detached apartment allowance in 2016 in hopes of boosting participation in an already existing accessory apartment initiative.

The original law allowed accessory apartments only within owner-occupied homes. The original law had found only a smattering of homeowners willing to create the new apartments—which required bringing structures up to date with new building codes—and the addition of the accessory allowance spurred only a few more.

“It’s been three years, and we got three apartments—so I think this is going to be really helpful,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said at a recent Town Board discussion of the new proposal, which was introduced by Mr. Lys. “We’ll see if that is the right balance, so that we can get more affordable apartments in residential zones.”

When the town introduced the detached accessory apartment law in 2016, it drew criticism from some who feared it would create nuisances for neighbors akin to overcrowded housing, and environmental concerns about septic flows. The town increased the original minimum lot size from half an acre to 40,000 square feet and put a cap of four on the total number of cars allowed at a property.

The apartments may not be less than 300 square feet in size or more than 600 square feet, and the main house on the property must be owner-occupied. The accessory structure, if it is newly constructed, must conform to all town zoning setbacks and other restrictions.

The law does allow an owner to live in the accessory apartment and rent the main house, but it cannot be on a seasonal basis.

Town Housing Director Tom Ruhle said that just 22 accessory apartments have been created townwide since the town began allowing them in the 1980s, with a few more “in the works” but not yet constructed.

“This change, albeit one word, will make the underlying law more effective,” Mr. Ruhle said, “and, hopefully, get to those caps.”

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