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Code change could mean more affordable rentals

Southold Town is considering special exceptions to allow apartments in commercial zones as a way to create more affordable housing options on the North Fork.

Under the current code, apartments can’t be a principal use in the commercial zones, but can be an accessory to a business, Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday morning at a Town Board work session.

“If you look at the inventory now, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of commercial space,” Mr. Russell said. “We have a lot of vacant space.”

Allowing apartments as a principal use would serve a couple of goals, he said, one being that there are already commercial centers that are likely better suited for residential use. In addition, he suggested it would create a healthier tax base in those zones.

“The rent roll is healthier so the tax base is healthier,” the supervisor said. “Generally the demand on housing is greater than the demand on commercial rental space. That’s productive real estate. In commercial areas, the way the taxes are calculated are based on the ability to earn incomes from the building and you’re producing more income because you have [a] steadier tenant base.”

To achieve this, commercial property owners would need a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and there would still be a process to go through in terms of approvals from the Suffolk County Department of Health. The goal is for town code not to be a hurdle, Mr. Russell said.

“I don’t want the code to be a stumbling block,” Mr. Russell said. “Allow it as a use and then let them go to the department of health.”

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