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Should Southold Town allow zoning change to accommodate affordable rental complex? Some residents say no

The Southold Town Board will have to weigh density concerns raised by neighbors when it votes at an upcoming meeting on a zoning change for a 16-unit affordable rental complex in Cutchogue.

More than a half-dozen residents of the hamlet spoke out against the Depot Lane proposal at a public hearing Tuesday night, saying the project would create issues of traffic safety, water quality and would devalue the private homes on the street. A resident also submitted a petition against the change of zone that had nearly 200 signatures and about two dozen opposition letters were sent to the Town Board, officials said. The applicant, North Fork Community Club LLC, is seeking a change of zone to affordable housing district.

Two local residents spoke out in support of the proposal, expressing a need for affordable places to live for the local workforce and young natives of the community. Even many of the detractors of the project, which would be constructed on the two-acre former Knights of Columbus property, acknowledged the dire need for affordable options in Southold Town.

Christina Urwand spoke of being born and raised in Cutchogue and searching for a place to live here as she and her fiancé relocated from New York City and stayed in her parents’ basement during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the Depot Lane proposal is something her family would like to see built.

Michael Foote said he grew up in Mattituck and Southold and has worked in the service industry for about a decade. He called the location near the two main thoroughfares in town “a great opportunity.”

“The people who work in service industry who want to live and stay in Southold or Greenport at this time don’t have affordable housing options,” he told the Town Board during the hearing, which was conducted virtually. “Small local businesses don’t have a great pool of people they can hire.”

Depot Lane resident Michael Malkush said he feels bad for local natives trying to find a place to live here, but he noted that the hearing was about a change of zone and not the important issue of affordable housing. He said a vote in support of the change of zone to allow for increased density would be “irresponsible.”

“To build a project of this magnitude is unacceptable and incompatible with the existing homes in this area,” he said.

Several speakers said they paid a premium for their homes because the area is zoned for two-acre parcels. To accept a change of zone to allow for a second story to be added to the former Knights of Columbus and construction of a second building for 16 two-bedroom rental units would change the character of the community, they argued.

“That’s nearly triple the density of Harvest Pointe,” Depot Lane resident Stephen Russo said in reference to a nearby condominium complex being built on 46 acres off Griffin Street.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, a Cutchogue resident and former Town Board member, lent his voice to the opposition, saying approval of the change of zone would undo the work of the hamlet stakeholders groups that worked more than 15 years ago to make planning recommendations for each of the town’s eight hamlets. That initiative allowed for high density developments in Hamlet centers elsewhere, Mr. Krupski said. At a meeting in March, town planners said the proposal is located just 250 feet from one of those centers.

Attorney William Goggins of Mattituck, representing the applicant, said the town created a floating zone for affordable housing so developments could be “sprinkled in” across town. He also said the property, where the Knights of Columbus had been in operation since 1980, has been an intensive use for decades, functioning as an event space and catering operation. He said some of the homes on Depot Lane were built after the Knights of Columbus.

He urged the board to approve the change of zone as a way to address the affordable housing need.

“Property values keep going up,” he said. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the young kids get pushed out of the community and that’s what’s happening.”

The Town Board voted to close the public hearing, but reserved a decision on the change of zone application for a future meeting. Councilman Jim Dinizio said he would abstain from that vote due to a personal “conflict of interest” and he did not participate in the hearing.

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