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Russell emphasizes need for affordable housing at ‘State of the Town’ address

Scott Russell

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Thursday he will propose legislation this year to encourage affordable housing development by allowing apartments in commercial properties.

During his annual “State of the Town” at Town Hall, Mr. Russell said he’s proposing to change town code to allow apartments as a primary use in commercial zones. Currently, apartments are only allowed as accessory uses above stores.

“It’s very difficult to create apartments over existing businesses because of state energy code and health codes and state fire suppression codes — all of those things,” Mr. Russell said.

His proposal would require a special exemption from the town Zoning Board of Appeals and would allow up to six units, depending on the size of the property, the supervisor added.

The number of apartments allowed to be built on a one-acre property doubled from 6 per acre to 12 per acre — with a 24 unit cap on each development — last year when the Town Board approved Mr. Russell’s proposed code change aimed at encouraging affordable housing.

“Many of the people on the affordable housing registry are generally younger people or retirees and they’re not in a position to buy a house or get a mortgage,” he said. “The idea is to create housing that will be affordable. Let them develop some equity and then, as their life circumstances change, whether it’s getting married or reaching their earning potential, they can step into the regular housing market and buy a house.”

In his 40-minute speech, the supervisor highlighted the town’s accomplishments from last year and its goals for 2017.

Among the topics he addressed Thursday night included culling the deer population, protecting the environment and highlighting the town’s improved finances.

Craig Jobes was hired last month as the town’s wildlife manager and will be tasked with creating a deer management plan, Mr. Russell said.

Last year, the town culled 378 deer, up 20 percent from the previous year, he added.

“We have no choice — there are no other options,” the supervisor stressed about the need to cull the deer population. 

Mr. Russell also noted an extension of the Community Preservation Fund was approved in November by a wide margin across the East End.

The ballot measure extends the life of the voter-approved two-percent real estate transfer tax from its current 2030 expiration date to 2050. Money raised through this tax goes into the Community Preservation Fund and can be used to purchase open space or farmland development rights. Funds are also used for water quality projects.

The town’s Community Preservation Fund last year was $7 million, Mr. Russell said.

Other 2016 environmental accomplishments the supervisor highlighted included removing 95 tons of electronic waste and shredding more than 30,000 pounds of paper free of charge for town residents.

Nearly 49 percent of waste brought to the town’s transfer station last year was recyclable materials, he added.

“That is a substantial program that is really successful,” Mr. Russell said. “That is the public of Southold Town showing that they really care about the environment.”

As for the town’s finances, Mr. Russell said Moody’s has reaffirmed the town’s bond rating of Aa1. That’s the highest credit rating in the town’s history, according to the supervisor. 

The town’s accounting department also received $1.38 million in grants and reimbursements, he said, adding the town’s year-end surplus was almost $1 million more than expected.

The town is also expected to save more than $1.98 million over the next 13 years due to a refinancing of its bonds, he added.

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Photo: Supervisor Scott Russell gives his ‘State of the Town’ address Thursday night. (Credit: Tim Gannon)