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Jun 12, 2018 10:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Officials Debate New Affordable Accessory Apartments Proposal

Diana Weir, the director of housing and community development for Southampton Town, discusses new ways to create affordable housing during a recent Town Board work session
Jun 12, 2018 10:29 AM

Southampton Town officials are working out the kinks on a new plan that would add to the affordable housing stock east of the Shinnecock Canal, but the plan is not without its detractors.

Diana Weir, the town’s director of housing and community development, and Assistant Town Attorney Kara Bak pitched a new proposal to the Town Board during a recent work session that, if enacted, would allow accessory apartments to be built on properties smaller than what is currently allowed. The apartments would also meet the criteria for affordable housing.

Under the current Town Code, an accessory apartment may be built on a property that is at least 30,000 square feet, or about two-thirds of an acre. The new proposal slashes that restriction in half, and would allow an affordable accessory apartment on a 15,000 square foot property, or a third of an acre, that's located in a community with an assessed valuation above the median in the town.

New setback standards would be drawn up under the proposal to keep privacy and safety standards in tact, Ms. Weir added.

The initiative also comes with some incentives for homeowners, who would not only get to enjoy an added income, but the apartment would account for an increased property value and would not be subject to building permit fees.

"I do think this is a critical piece of legislation," said Ms. Weir, noting that 80 percent of the town's workforce lives west of the Shinnecock Canal.

The idea of the legislation, that will be sponsored by Town Supervisor Jay Schniderman, is to get more accessory apartments east of the canal—a maneuver that would hopefully also help to lessen rush hour traffic in that area.

Ms. Bak added that there is currently "limited availability" of affordable housing opportunities east of the canal. She suspects that getting more affordable housing in that area would help sustain the local economy all year long and help fire and emergency medical services recruit volunteers.

While the need for more affordable housing east of the canal was largely acknowledged by Town Board members during the June 7 work session, Councilwoman Christine Scalera had some reservations about the proposal.

Ms. Scalera said that relaxing zoning requirements for accessory apartments in wealthier households in the town would not be the best way to fix the affordable housing issue. She referred to the proposal as a "floating zoning designation" because as new homes are assessed every year, different communities would be eligible for the accessory apartments. Because of that, Ms. Scalera said that while many communities west of the canal are currently below the town's median value, in future years that could change.

She used Hampton Bays as a hypothetical example. The hamlet, where a bulk of the town's affordable housing already exists, would not be eligible in this proposal this year. But what happens if in a few years when the Canoe Place Inn is built—the planned development district that calls for 37 townhouses on the eastern side of the canal, as well as a clubhouse and the restoration the old Canoe Place Inn on the western side—jacks up the community's assessed valuation?

The hamlet could then be eligible for the affordable accessory apartments—which the town was trying to avoid.

"This is not the way to do it," Ms. Scalera said.

There are between 400 and 600 accessory apartments in the town built under the current town code, according to Ms. Weir.

Referencing the town's geographic information system, or GIS, Ms. Scalera said that there were up to 9,000 homes in the town could be eligible for the accessory apartments at some point in time, according to the law as proposed.

Kyle Collins, the town's planning and development administrator, noted that structures built under the proposed law would be grandfathered in if the community's assessed property value ever fell below the median.

Ms. Scalera said she would be willing to sit down with the supervisor, and other town officials, to come up with a better strategy to bring affordable housing to Southampton.

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This work session last Tuesday is worth the watch. It is on the Town website. This issue was raised almost 3 years ago and the presenters were woefully under- prepared. Councilperson Scalera repeatedly trued to obtain the relevant facts, applicable law, necessary analyses and address any unintended consequences to make a sound decision while the rest of the Town Board and "trusted advisers" acted as if she was speaking a foreign language. Based on my observations over the past number of years, ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (443), Hampton Bays on Jun 13, 18 2:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Scalera is spot-on. Not only is she thinking about this logically and practically, she’s offering to work with other board members on a solution. That’s good government.
By getalife (59), Southampton on Jun 13, 18 8:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
It sounds like you are assuming that the other Board members want an effective solution. Based on outcomes over the years, I am not sure that is the case. I am not sure if it is because they really don't know or they don't care or they surround themselves with "trusted" advisers who really don't know or really don't care. From my observations, there is an egregious waste of taxpayer funds paid to internal "trusted" advisers supplemented with consultants and other outsourced labor. Councilperson ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (443), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 18 6:29 AM
Assistant Town Attorney Kara Bak signed off on the Rose Hill Road land giveaway scam! It's hard to give credence to anything she has to say. That being said, it's not the Town's business to create housing , affordable or otherwise.
By bigfresh (4381), north sea on Jun 14, 18 7:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
Jay Schneiderman says he is good at math - maybe he can tell Kyle Collins that the 1999 Master Plan is 19 years old - out of touch and out of date - master plan and leadership.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 18 12:13 PM
We're either part of the problem or part of the solution. Let's get off our duffs and run for Town Board or join a board or committee that can help implement solutions. Then see what it's like to deal with the NIMBY's (Not In MY BackYarders) and CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) People that come to these meetings and vomit over every constructive solution presented and sit around from home vomiting on solutions through the comments section of this site.
By MichaelDaly (11), Sag Harbor, New York on Aug 8, 18 2:54 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser