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New restrictions on house size could be coming to Southold Town

Southold Town officials are discussing code amendments to further limit house sizes, long a point of contention among North Fork communities.

Administrators and members of local civic associations debated a third draft of proposed amendments at a code committee meeting Monday. A chief suggestion was to establish a sliding scale for gross square footage based on lot size, which would set tighter restrictions than the current 20% lot coverage limit. 

Supervisor Scott Russell said the gross floor area of the entire structure would count toward size limits, rather than just the building’s footprint. Further standards might be set for homes on properties that exceed five acres, which would allow a little more than 10,000 square feet on the proposed scale system.

Accessory buildings that are “accessory to, and intended to be, directly in support of the specific use” of the house would also be included in the gross square footage. Mr. Russell said. 

Allowances for existing homes that deviate from new standards would be grandfathered in, which is always the case when the town adopts code amendments, he added. The town is still discussing “what kind of special relief they will be given in the code.” Plans for vacant lots would need to adapt to code changes.

Local civic associations initially approached the town in February to appeal for tighter house size restrictions. At an informal follow-up meeting in May, members asked the town to set “reasonable limits” to curb oversized houses, which currently can occupy as much as 40,000 square feet on two acres. They pointed out that Southold has more lax house size restrictions than other East End towns and suggested potential amendments.

Charles Gueli, past president of the Mattituck Laurel Civic Association, said the currently permitted 20% lot coverage is “outdated and dangerous,” and risks community character.

“It’s a complicated issue, so I’m not sure exactly how they should go about doing it, but [the town is] giving it a lot of thought,” he said. “I’m confident that they’ll come up with something that will work.”

Mr. Gueli pointed out that the comprehensive plan indicates intentions to revise residential zoning and condemned commercial overdevelopment in Southold, especially proposals for large hotels along Main Road. 

Eric Dantes, a member of the town Zoning Board of Appeals and the Housing Advisory Commission, said the proposed code amendment to limit housing size “is designed to maintain Southold’s unique community character and rural feel.”

“If I wanted to live in Queens I would move to Queens,” he added. Mr. Dantes noted that he’s met with civic associations and spoken at town board meetings about house sizing as an individual, not as a member of the ZBA or HAC. 

“The code proposed by civic associations allows homeowners to build a large enough home to serve the needs of their family while limiting the size in a way to preserve the current character of the neighborhoods,” he explained. “The proposal will not stop all change or prevent residents from building a nice home, but it should guide future development that is in line with the character and scale of Southold Town.”

Proposed amendments to house sizing have not been finalized.