Supervisor Russell delivers his State of the Town address

Southold Town Supervisor delivered his annual “State of the Town” address Thursday night, noting past efforts and changes to come, including a new site for the Justice Court.

The town is in the process of acquiring the former Capital One bank building in Southold on the corner of Main Road and Youngs Avenue, where it currently leases office space for various town departments, for a new court facility. Currently, the court meets in Town Hall, in the same room where the Town Board meets.

The new facility is estimated to cost $5.5 million to both acquire and renovate the space, which the supervisor said turned out to be the least costly option out of leasing, buying or building new. The site comes with pros – such as 93 parking spaces guaranteed to stay in municipal control – and cons, such as substantially increasing the debt service, taking on maintenance of an older building, and a need to hire new Department of Public Works staff to keep up with facilities.

In terms of other property the town is working to acquire, Mr. Russell mentioned a 10-acre parcel, not yet identified, that could potentially be the site of Sports East, a recreational facility previously proposed for a site in Mattituck that was ultimately rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals

As for acquisitions for preservation, the town acquired or is currently in contact for a total 113 acres of farmland. The town is working with Suffolk County on protecting “key lots” that are vulnerable to development and could add “substantial public benefit” to the town, Mr. Russell said.

Fiscally, the town ended last year on a strong note, Mr. Russell said. The town’s estimated fund balance for 2017 ended with $1 million more than anticipated, he said. 

In his address, Mr. Russell outlined goals for 2018, including continued efforts to create affordable housing options in town.

“It’s an ongoing crisis. It has been for years and it will be probably for years,” he said. “Southold is not unique. This is a challenge in the entire region.”

There is no simple solution, he said, and the Town Board has been trying to take multiple, smaller steps to deal with the larger issue.

Last year, the Town Board approved a code change to allow up to six apartments in commercial zones with Zoning Board of Appeals approval. Tenants must meet eligibility requirement and undergo background checks.

Looking ahead, the Town Board will consider revising the code to promote apartments in accessory structures that are meant to be geared towards family members, Mr. Russell said.

The Town Board will also consider new legislation in terms of local roads and traffic, the supervisor said. Largely in response to heavy fall traffic, which was discussed by Southold, Riverhead county,  and state officials last week, the Town Board will create a new code to require private operators or businesses to reimburse the town when there is a need for the police department to manage traffic.

With a county-funded traffic study done in conjunction with the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association at Love Lane now complete, the town is undertaking a new engineering study for County Road 48 and Route 25 in Greenport for solutions at that intersection, Mr. Russell said.

The supervisor also touched on the town’s role in tourism, which he said should be reconsidered. This will be the last year the town intends to issue a grant to the North Fork Promotion Council , Mr. Russell said.

“Despite a substantial focus placed on Riverhead businesses, Southold town has been the only town that has contributed to the organization’s annual expenses,” he said. “I no longer see a role for the town.”

Promoting the region has been successful, but it’s also come with consequences, such as traffic and congestion that impacts the quality of life of residents and discourages them from taking  trips to local businesses, Mr. Russell said.

In terms of long term traffic solutions, Mr. Russell said there are no easy solutions, which are likely to be costly or unpopular, and in some cases both.

[email protected]

Photo caption: Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell gave the “State of the Town” address at Town Hall Thursday night. Credit: Kelly Zegers