While many residents at Tuesday night’s Southold Town Board meeting agreed that having affordable housing for the area’s workers and retired population is important, others said they feared how a proposal to increase the number of units allowed in an affordable housing development will change the North Fork’s rural character.
Under the code change proposal, the amount of apartments allowed to be built on a one-acre property would be doubled from 6 per acre to 12 per acre, with a 24 unit cap on each development.
Some residents who spoke during the public hearing — including business owners, neighbors and Town Board members themselves — expressed support for the proposed code change.
Kate Sepenoski, operations manager at Port of Egypt in Southold, said that while her sons left the North Fork to attend school in Boston, she hopes affordable housing will be available for them in the near future.
“We want our sons to come back,” she said. “We want them to be part of the fabric of our community.”
Not only would her own family benefit, Ms. Sepenoski said, but her workers would, too, if more local affordable housing was built. She said her employees already have to commute from outside Southold Town because local home prices are too high.
“These are the people that need to have someplace affordable to live,” she said, adding there shouldn’t be a stigma around the idea. “This is reality housing. This isn’t affordable housing.”
Robert Dunn of Peconic said he also supports the proposal and used South Fork traffic caused by blue-collar workers as an example of what happens to a town when rental and housing prices become too expensive for locals.
“The people we need to do our electric work, to do our plumbing work, to do our landscaping work have to drive in from eastern Nassau or western Suffolk,” Mr. Dunn said. “A little bit of housing for the people who do that kind of work isn’t bad … You have to do it.”
Councilman Robert Ghosio said the code change would “allow more flexibility” for local developers to turn a profit and entice them to build in Southold Town.
He also believes the addition of affordable housing will help the area maintain its “traditional character.”
“Part of that tradition is also the small business that we have here — and those small businesses are struggling with getting and keeping employees,” he said.
While some residents applauded the proposed affordable housing code, others raised concerns.
“Is that really what Southold wants? Overcrowding in a sense?” asked Mattituck resident Raymond Fedynak. “Do we really, really want that and is that the direction the town is going in?”
Mr. Fedynak — who said he wasn’t completely against the proposal — also warned that too much density would cause the North Fork to seem like New York City.
Benja Schwartz of Cutchogue said he doubts the town would be able to properly vet each new development.
“I applaud the Town Board and the people who are working with the Town Board who are trying to develop a formula that will work, but I think we have a long way to go,” he said.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who lives in Cutchogue, said upgraded sewer systems might allow higher density and suggested the town look at each individual hamlet to have any affordable housing development match the allowable density for those areas.
When some residents said they feared the code change would automatically grant developers approval for their projects, Supervisor Scott Russell stressed that any proposal would have to go through public hearings and site plan approval — just like any other development project in town.
After the public hearing, the Town Board unanimously voted to table a decision on the code change until board members review testimony from the hearing and address residents’ statements.
Photo: Peconic resident Robert Dunn speaks in support of the proposed affordable housing code change at Tuesday night’s public hearing at Southold Town Hall. (Credit: Paul Squire)