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Should marinas be allowed to build accessory apartments?

In an ongoing effort to provide more housing options throughout Southold Town, officials have eased restrictions to allow accessory apartments in most commercial and residential zones.

But what about in marine-zoned properties, typically reserved for marinas, boatyards, and docks?

It’s a proposal Supervisor Scott Russell asked the board to consider during Tuesday’s work session.

“It doesn’t have to be quite as broad as the commercial zones,” he said, explaining how restrictions could be put in place to limit their size.

Mr. Russell said he was recently approached by a couple who own a marine business and want to construct an apartment for themselves at their business in order to downsize and semi-retire while still running the business.

“It would have to be attached to a principal building,” the supervisor said, stressing that freestanding apartment units or condos would not be allowed under what he’s proposing.

While supportive of the idea, the majority of Town Board members sought more information on zoning, how the amendment would align with goals in the Master Plan and other pros and cons from a planning perspective.

“There are a lot of environmental concerns,” said deputy supervisor Jill Doherty, though she noted that she thinks the idea is worth looking more closely at. Allowing accessory apartments at a marina, for example, could help provide accommodations for employees who commute from further west and are faced with limited options in Southold. “That type of thing, I think we should explore,” she said.

Board member Louisa Evans said she’d like to see a map to get a sense of how many properties the proposal would impact. 

But for Councilman Jim Dinizio, the idea is a non-starter.

He feels the issue is a personal hardship and should be resolved by seeking a use variance through the town Zoning Board of Appeals, rather than sweeping changes to the town code to benefit just a few people.

“To take up [waterfront space] for apartments, which aren’t going to contribute in any way to affordability of houses around here, I think that’s a slippery slope,” he said. “Once you add that to a zone, it’s there.”

Under current town code, single-family residences are already an explicitly permitted use in Marine I districts. “In marine zones, you can have accessory apartments. The problem is, it has to be accessory to a house,” he said. “That’s a long way to go to get one.” 

Mr. Russell also said accessory apartments could be added as a special exception use, which would still trigger a review and possible restrictions by the ZBA.

“This may be one person who has a hardship, but it affects all the Marine I zones,” Mr. Dinizio said, calling for the board to at least gather more information.

The board is expected to ask the planning department to weigh in while they mull the idea.