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Southold Town passes law in effort to expand affordable housing

In an effort to create more affordable housing options in Southold Town, the Town Board passed a local law last Tuesday that would permit up to six “moderate income” rental units near village centers. 

The units must be in the hamlet locus, or HALO, zones that surround the town’s hamlet centers. The use must be granted by a special exception through the Zoning Board of Appeals, according to the adopted law.

The vote was not unanimous. Councilman Jim Dinizio voted against the code change, saying he could not vote to see “residential take over commercial.”

“Our town is made up of about 60 percent residential, the rest is industrial … and about 2 percent commercial,” he said before cast his “no” vote. “Quite honestly, it’s backwards.”

Fishers Island Justice and Town Board member Louisa Evans was absent from the meeting.

At a public hearing on the measure last Tuesday, Southold attorney Patricia Moore said the special exception process “is not the way to do it.” That process through the ZBA would add time and money, she said, and the law already identifies parameters — the HALO zones — that make it a permitted use instead.

Instead, she said, the site plan process through the Planning Board and department could address any issues.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the special permit route gives the ZBA an opportunity to hear public comment on what might be “too intense a use.”

During public comment, Ms. Moore said, “The opposition is obviously always the neighbors, and the policy is always denial.”

“To my feelings about the special permit, I think it’s just not happening out here,” she said. “We’re just not getting affordable and we have to make it easier to implement affordable.”

The supervisor said business owners have asked him for an “avenue” in the code that would allow them to find places for their employees to live.

Doug Roberts, who noted he was speaking as a citizen and housing advocate, and not as a Greenport Village trustee, thanked the town for “stepping up” on affordable housing. He said he agreed with Ms. Moore that streamlining the process would help.

Mr. Roberts also made a plea for the town to consider allocating Community Preservation Funds toward water quality improvements, specifically sewer hookups for structures that need to be renovated to accommodate housing.

“It’s a good time maybe to think about that as you’re pushing this way,” he said.

Mr. Roberts asked about the rationale behind the law’s condition that property owners commit to renting out any units they’re permitted to create for at least eight years. In response, the supervisor alluded to an upcoming announcement on affordable housing.

The eight-year commitment would assure a rental unit’s availability but leave open the possibility that, eventually, owners could return the properties to commercial use. He said demand for apartments is currently “far greater” than for office or commercial space.

“I think in the near future we’re going to have something we’ll announce that everybody’s gonna be very happy about,” Mr. Russell said, without going into further detail.

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