Developers pitch new affordable housing proposal in Cutchogue

A new affordable housing development may be coming to Southold. 

Developers have proposed a 24-unit project dubbed Cutchogue Woods on land purchased by longtime Southold resident Rona Smith. Ms. Smith established Housing Initiatives LLC and teamed up with affordable housing developer Georgica Green Ventures to build townhouse-style rental units at 15690 Middle Road in Cutchogue. There’s currently very little multi-family housing in Southold, she said. 

“As a person who’s very involved in affordable housing and as someone who has been a developer, I have felt over the years like I just wanted to jump in because I know how to make a development happen and I know what the need is, and the need just grows exponentially every single year,” said Ms. Smith, who purchased the property with her own savings.

Ms. Smith has been involved in local government and housing for more than 20 years, serving as chair of the town Housing Advisory Commission and Economic Development Committee, and member of The Southold Local Development Corporation. She also worked as sole general Partner of First London Group, Ltd., which established multi-family housing in central London, England, for about 15 years. Ms. Smith challenged Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo for his seat in the state assembly in 2018.

She reached out in October to GGV, which has built over 1,500 affordable homes in New York since 2012, including developments in Riverhead and Southampton. A conceptual proposal was submitted to the town Planning Board in December, but no formal applications have been filed yet. 

“One of the things that I guess I’ve always thought about housing is that for people to have a stable life, you need to have stable housing,” Ms. Smith said. “We have a lot of educational programs that are absolutely wonderful. We have a lot of opportunities, training, that people come across. But it’s very difficult to enroll in any of that, or to think about tomorrow, unless you know where you’re going to be living next year.”

She said she doesn’t believe people can benefit from education unless they have a clear mind and emphasized that many people in Southold are spending a large portion of their income on housing. “The only thing I regret is that we can only build 24 units,” she added.

“Housing is one cure but spending more than 50% of income on rent leaves no disposable income for other necessities and may require more than one job; no time and no savings. When the pandemic hit and people couldn’t feed their families, the lack of savings was clear,” she said.

The primary market area will likely be in the Town of Southold, with a secondary market area likely in Suffolk County, according to a proposal submitted to the town Planning Board. The marketing plan will be reviewed and approved by New York State Homes and Community Renewal before units are marketed.

The initial selection process will be determined via lottery. The proposal notes past GGV developments on the East End usually attract a large pool of local applicants. Developers currently expect the “project affordability tiers between 60-100% Area Median Income.”

“This team believes having a mixed range of affordability in this project, and all projects, is an important benefit to the local community,” the proposal says, noting that a market study would be performed “to confirm the needs for this area.” 

The Cutchogue Woods development would include a management office on site for employees, documents and tenant files, along with a full-time superintendent and/or maintenance personnel, according to the proposal. 

There would also be “an on-site presence and security systems in place through live and recorded outdoor and indoor cameras to ensure the safety of the residents and community.” 

The 24 townhouse-style units would include studio (400-550 square feet), one-bedroom (600-725 square feet), two-bedroom (750-950 square feet) and three-bedroom (900-1,150 square feet) options. There would be common space available for residents that includes a community room with a kitchen, laundry facilities, a fitness room, an on-site management office and open greenspace. 

“Each building will resemble the look of attached townhouses placed in a pocket neighborhood, clustered around a natural wooded green,” the proposal says, adding that there would be 48 parking spaces, or two per apartment, on site for tenants only. 

Ms. Smith said at a Planning Board meeting on Monday that the team plans to use prefabricated units to avoid clearing the land, which is heavily wooded, as much as possible. The townhouses would be grouped around “garden courtyards.”

The proposal points out that the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district has suffered from declining enrollment over the past two decades. 

“This is expected to continue as the number of first graders is approximately 25% lower than the number of high school seniors, demonstrating fewer students going forward. Therefore, the possible addition of students should be a positive event for the district,” the proposal says.

An uptick in enrollment would likely not impact taxes, since “space and personnel are already in place for additional students,” it says. 

The proposed project is set back from Route 48. The townhouses would be shielded behind existing trees, screening noise for residents and visually screening views of the development from the road. The proposal notes that the buildings will be designed to “match the rural aesthetic of Southold, keeping pace with the historic, architectural, and natural qualities of the surrounding area.”

The development will also meet high energy and sustainability standards, according to the proposal, with the goal to eventually reach energy independence via solar panels. 

The parcel is currently under Agricultural Conservation zoning. The developers hope to rezone the land to Affordable Housing District.

Ms. Smith praised GGV and its developments on Monday, saying “they’ve all been lauded as being exceptional in terms of the size of the units and the sustainability issues,” and “the level of dignity involved because they are so nicely finished.” 

“We really want to build this the way the town would like it to be built. We welcome your input,” she told the Planning Board.

GGV representatives emphasized that the project is still in the early stages and said they would work with the county to meet septic system regulations.

The Planning Board will review and discuss the proposal.