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Town Board denies change of zone for affordable housing project

A change of zone application that would have allowed 16 affordable apartments to be built in Cutchogue was officially denied by the Southold Town Board Tuesday.

The 4-1 vote came nearly a month after neighbors took to a public hearing to express their opposition toward the project. Councilman Jim Dinizio abstained from the vote and has previously said he would recuse himself from discussions about the project due to a personal conflict of interest.

As he cast a ‘no’ vote, Supervisor Scott Russell said he considered the balance between the need for affordable housing and community character in his decision-making process.

“The character [on Depot Lane] is changing very dramatically already and I think adding this to the equation is going to make it change much more rapidly,” Mr. Russell said.

The applicant, North Fork Community Club LLC, had been seeking a change of zone to an affordable housing district in order to convert the former Knights of Columbus property into affordable housing on Depot Lane.

More than a half-dozen residents of the hamlet spoke out against the proposal, citing issues of traffic safety, water quality and property values during last month’s hearing.

A resident also submitted a petition against the change of zone that had nearly 200 signatures and two dozen more letters opposing the idea were sent to the Town Board, officials said. 

Density also played a role in the votes against the proposal. Mr. Russell pointed to a 124-unit condominium complex currently being built west of Depot Lane. The area carries a 50-acre Hamlet Density zoning the supervisor says is the largest in town.

“There’s an awful lot happening on Depot Lane,” he said during a work session ahead of Tuesday’s public meeting.

Councilman Bob Ghosio cast the lone vote in support of the rezoning.

“Private sector individuals coming to the town offering to build affordable or workforce housing is rare,” Mr. Ghosio said, adding that he thought the location was appropriate.

“Frankly, I didn’t think it was going to be, in my opinion, too big for the parcel,” he said.

Earlier, during Tuesday’s work session, board member Louisa Evans warned the board against approving these types of projects simply to meet the housing needs. “Just because it’s affordable housing doesn’t mean that any application is the right place to put it, as much as we’d like to see more affordable housing,” she said. “We need to determine what the appropriate places are.” 

But the denial doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is dead.

“I’m obviously all in support of affordable housing, but I want to make sure we’re doing it in the right size and scope and not just sticking it anywhere,” Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said.

Despite voting against the change of zone, she said she’d welcome the applicant to return before the board with revised plans, perhaps showing less than the 16 units currently proposed.

A separate change of zone application for an affordable housing development located next to Town Hall is still pending a decision by the Town Board.

That proposal calls for rezoning a 1.12-acre property to an affordable housing district in order to build 14 apartments at the site. There were no speakers during a public hearing held on that project Nov. 4, but the board is still awaiting comments from the Planning Board to consider before voting on the application.

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