Highlights from supervisor’s ‘State of the Town’ address

02/26/2015 10:21 PM |
Scott Russell responds to questions following his State of the Town address Thursday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Scott Russell responds to questions following his State of the Town address Thursday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell stressed the need for community input on several key issues, including affordable housing and helicopter noise, in his sixth annual “State of the Town” address Thursday night. 

Speaking before a crowd of more than 30 audience members at Town Hall, Mr. Russell led an informal one-hour meeting that also included remarks from other Town Board members and questions and comments from audience members.

The supervisor first spoke of the town’s accomplishments in 2014, before looking ahead to his goals for 2015. Below are a few of the issues discussed at the event:

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Affordable rentals are the key to solving the affordable housing crisis in Southold Town, Mr. Russell stressed during his address.

Mr. Russell said that while the affordable housing mission in Southold Town was once about new construction of affordable single-family homes, the demand has shifted to rentals.

He called a withdrawn proposal for 75 apartment units across from the former Capital One building on Main Road in Mattituck “far-fetched,” but said it’s the type of new construction the town should be exploring.

“Seventy-five apartment units in one hamlet was probably too many to absorb at one time,” he said. “But I do think we need to understand that concept was an excellent one for Southold Town. Affordable apartments are going to solve the problem.”

Councilman Jim Dinizio supported the supervisor, saying the town’s Affordable Housing Commission has worked hard on this issue only to hit “road block after road block.”

“We need some imagination [from the public],” he said. “I urge all to learn more about [affordable housing.]”

At the end of his speech, Mr. Russell emphasized the need for community members to participate in an affordable housing seminar the town is hosting at the Peconic Lane Community Center at 6 p.m. March 11 to better understand “what the town’s affordable housing program is all about.”

“This will be the first of many community meetings on this subject,” he said.

HELICOPTER NOISE

Mr. Russell and Councilman Bob Ghosio also encouraged community members to sign a petition supporting a ban of commercial air traffic at the East Hampton Airport.

The petition is an effort of the Southold Town Helicopter Committee, which was formed last year. Mr. Russell and Mr. Ghosio praised the committee and member Teresa McCaskie for continuing to put pressure on East Hampton and federal officials.

“Helicopter and low-flying planes have been a detriment to our town,” Mr. Ghosio said.

Ms. McCaskie addressed the audience following the supervisor’s address to urge community members to attend the March 5 East Hampton public hearing on a proposed weekend helicopter ban. The meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. at LVT Studios.

“For the first time East Hampton Town is listening to all of us,” she said. “They’re recognizing the pain.”

AQUACULTURE

Mr. Russell said land-based aquacultural operations known as shrimp farms belong in Southold Town so long as they’re located on properties that will not cause them to be “detrimental to surrounding neighborhoods.”

“They do belong here and I’m intent on changing the code to make these happen,” he said.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

The supervisor stressed that Southold Town needs to be at the forefront of alternative and renewable energy production during his address.

He pointed to legislation last year that permits solar arrays as a special exception use on light industrial properties and said the town needs to stay focused on alternative energy.

“There is a huge demand out there,” Mr. Russell said. “There are investors looking to site these types of facilities. Southold has the land, we have the sun and we want to be a part of that equation.”

SHORT-TERM RENTALS

Mr. Russell said the Town Board will soon consider legislation to possibly limit or prohibit short-term rentals in Southold Town.

Mr. Russell said he believes the town code needs to be updated to consider the growing market of vacation properties listed on websites like homeaway.com and airbnb.com.

“The current code doesn’t speak to the use,” Mr. Russell said. “I think it’s clear from the Town Board’s perspective that we need to do something.

“We hope to have some legislation drafted and proposed shortly.”

LAND PRESERVATION

While he did not discuss specifics, Mr. Russell said the town has its eye on purchasing several properties for the purpose of preservation.

Mr. Russell said the town received more than $6 million in Community Preservation Fund revenues in 2014 and anticipates matching that number again this year.

The town purchased 78 acres of farmland in 2014 to the tune of nearly $4.8 million, about half of which was reimbursed through federal grants, he said.

“We need to ambitiously protect lands we’ve long desired,” the supervisor said.

DEER MANAGEMENT

The town’s deer management program reported that 285 deer were harvested in 2014 with 108 hunters taking part in the town’s program, which spans 600 acres of huntable land, according to a handout at Thursday’s event.

Mr. Russell said during his speech that the town’s deer management program has now eclipsed more than 1,100 deer harvested since its inception in 2008.

Solid waste coordinator Jim Bunchuck reported that an additional 388 deer were delivered as road kill in 2014, down 12 percent from the year prior, according to a handout.

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