House size — or, more aptly, “McMansions” — a campaign issue raised by newly elected councilwoman Sarah Nappa and her running mates last fall, was the topic of a lengthy discussion At Southold Town Hall last Thursday morning.
Supervisor Scott Russell said he met with Bob Hanlon, who championed the issue during his campaign for Town Board, and with chief building inspector Michael Verity in recent months to discuss options for moving forward.
While aspects related to house size coincide with the town’s recently completed comprehensive plan, Mr. Russell said the issue should move forward independently and thoughtfully.
“You can build a pretty substantial house,” he said as the board discussed their options for moving forward. “Everybody in this community has had someone build a house that’s so far beyond the scope and scale of what the community is that it does have a fundamental impact [on the neighborhood],” Mr. Russell added.
But their challenge will be balancing code that could end up being too restrictive. “You have to allow for some expansion,” the supervisor said, adding that many residents are already seeing larger, out-of-character homes crop up in their neighborhoods.
Councilman Jim Dinizio said he’s not sure if board action is appropriate, saying the current code defines what dimensions are appropriate. Mr. Dinizio said that many homes people point to as examples were built according to code. “They did not need variances to build these homes,” he said. “They met our code.”
His main concern is that any new code would be overreaching and could make existing homes suddenly nonconforming or prevent homeowners from making renovations.
But Ms. Nappa says the town’s standard of allowing 20% building lot coverage per acre is outdated and could technically allow for 8,000-square-foot homes.
“We need to think about what’s coming, what’s here, what we’re seeing and how that is changing,” she said. “People weren’t building five- and 6,000-square-foot houses 20 and 30 years ago, but they are now.”
She agreed that the code shouldn’t be overly strict.
According to town attorney Bill Duffy, there are several ways the board could address the issue, including setting maximum building sizes or including impervious surfaces in the total lot coverage calculation. “It depends on what you want to see,” he told members of the board.
Councilmembers agreed that community members and local builders should be part of the ongoing discussion. Officials are looking to schedule a public input meeting in the upcoming weeks.
“It will take time,” Councilman Bob Ghosio said. “There are going to be opinions on both sides that have to be heard. It can be an emotional issue as well.”