Southold considering new bill to allow for more affordable apartments

The Southold Town Board is considering another version of an amendment that would alter existing code to allow property owners in commercial zones to expand buildings for conversion to affordable apartments. 

At a regular session on Tuesday, the Town Board set a public hearing for the proposed local law on May 24 at 4:30 p.m. A public hearing for an earlier version of the legislation was held in late November. 

According to the passed resolution, the proposed amendments are aimed to more closely regulate the development of affordable units in town “in order to maintain community character and manage growth in accordance with the Southold Town Comprehensive Plan.”

Property owners in the agricultural conservation (A-C) and low-density residential R-40, R-80, R-120, R-200 and R-400 zoning districts would no longer be able to apply for a special exemption to convert existing space to affordable apartments. 

Property owners, however, in the RO, or residential office; limited business; hamlet business; general business; light industrial park/planned office park; and light industrial districts would be allowed to convert and expand existing buildings to as many as six affordable apartments by special exemption. 

The building to be converted must be located within a designated Hamlet Locus (HALO) Zone or Hamlet Center and the apartments must be offered for rent that does not exceed the maximum set forth in town code. Eligible applicants for tenancy must be registered in the Town of Southold Housing Registry and the apartment must be their primary residence.

The building owners must apply for a building permit for the approved construction within a year of the special exception approval and the apartments must remain affordable apartments for at least eight years. There must also be at least one parking space per apartment.

The parcel, building and apartments must remain in common ownership and town rental permits must be obtained for each of the apartments.

An earlier version of the amendment would have allowed building expansion for affordable apartments in Hamlet Business and Hamlet Locus zones. Town code currently allows property owners in certain zones to convert existing buildings into up to six affordable apartments, although all conversions must go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for Special Exception review and approval. 

The idea is to promote the “adaptive reuse of existing buildings,” Supervisor Scott Russell told The Suffolk Times ahead of the public hearing in November. “We found this code to be a little bit limiting, because there’s buildings that the owners would want to add more than the amount of apartments any particular building could host.”

In the resolution passed Tuesday, the Town Board declared itself lead agency for the purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review; requested SEQRA and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program reports and recommendations from the Planning Board; and directed the Town Clerk to forward the legislation to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for a report and recommendations.

At a work session earlier that day, Town Board member Sarah Nappa said she’d be willing to have a separate conversation on the potential for affordable apartments in residential zones, although not as many as six. 

“They’re allowed to now, but if the issue is more than one, than we should have that as a separate conversation,” Mr. Russell said.