Fishers Island crowd applauds proposed affordable housing changes

New zoning could create more year-round, residential housing on Fishers Island. (Grant Parpan photo)
New zoning could create more affordable year-round, residential housing on Fishers Island. (Grant Parpan photo)

At the Southold Town Board’s annual meeting on Fishers Island, local residents were glad to see a proposed zoning change they hope will pave the way for the construction of a small, affordable, year-round housing complex on the island.

The amendment — which would take affect town-wide — will  go up for public hearing in Southold Town Hall on Aug. 26, and would make the town’s existing affordable housing district more flexible by allowing private property owners to construct several rentals on one site.

Under the draft law, potential renters would apply to the town to live in the units, and after determining if the applicant meets Suffolk County’s Housing and Urban Development income standards to live in affordable units, the landlord could then offer the tenant a lease — at a term for at least one year.

The policy change comes as Fishers Island resident Candice Sanger seeks to construct a four-unit affordable housing complex— nicknamed the “tiny house project” — near the community center on Fox Lane.

The proposed zoning change and affordable housing project were welcomed by Fishers Island residents, who said it is difficult to find moderately-priced housing on the island, making it challenging for people to live there year-round.

“I’m really grateful to hear about year-round, residential housing,” said Karen Goodwin, a year-round resident and principal of the Fishers Island School District. “I see housing as the biggest barrier to people living here year-round. Right now, we just hired an English teacher and she wants to live on the island … We are trying to piece together a few different options for her, but she has had to move several times. She can’t find affordable housing.”

Fishers Island Town Justice and town board member Louisa Evans said that while affordable housing is a problem throughout Southold Town, it is magnified on Fishers Island. She added that her fellow board members are supportive of Ms. Sanger’s project.

“There is a great need for affordable housing out here,” Ms. Evans said Thursday. “We have a situation where a lot of the year-round residents get bought up by summer residents when they come on the market. In order to boost up the year-round population, we need to have places people can live.”

Ms. Sanger has been in talks with an architect and the town board about the project since last August. However, she has not submitted a site plan for consideration yet, planning department Heather Lanza said. Should the amendment pass, Ms. Sanger would still need to submit a site plan and  request a zoning change on the property for the housing complex to move forward, she said.

In addition to this proposed affordable housing zoning change, others could be in the works for the island.

As a part the effort to develop the land use chapter of Southold Town’s comprehensive plan, Ms. Lanza said the planning department is re-evaluating the town’s current “one size fits all” zoning approach, stating that different hamlets have different needs.

Ideas for a Fishers Island-specific commercial district and year-round housing district are on the table, but no details have been mapped out as of yet, Ms. Lanza said. The hope is to complete and implement the land use chapter in 2017.

“It is a long timeframe, but that is the point — we are planning for the future,” she said.