The Southold Town Board plans to set a meeting to discuss a more defined process for affordable housing applications, after questioning a lack of details submitted for a project on Depot Lane in Cutchogue.
Mattituck attorney Bill Goggins has applied for a zone change from residential zoning to an Affordable Housing District to build 12 affordable apartments on the former Knights of Columbus property. At a town work session on Tuesday, Town Board member Jill Doherty questioned whether the town should move ahead with a public hearing.
“Goggins wants to move forward. We asked him to give us a management plan. He gave it to us verbally. I don’t know if you guys want to move ahead with a public hearing and ask more questions then? I don’t think we’ll get more than that,” she said.
The Housing Advisory Commission has indicated support for the project, according to Ms. Doherty, because of the housing crisis in Southold Town.
“For me, I have concerns about this, especially given the residential nature of this area. I’m not sure that I feel like it’s a complete enough plan to set a public hearing to change the zone,” Town Board member Sarah Nappa said. “I’m very pro affordable housing but I’m not necessarily willing to greenlight every project that just comes in front of us. But I think that there’s a responsibility that we as a Town Board have in vetting these things before we grant that change in zone.”
Ms. Doherty pointed out that holding a hearing doesn’t necessarily mean the town will approve the zone change. She said she agrees there needs to be a more detailed management plan.
“We’ve asked him and this is what we’ve gotten. I think at this point, let’s move to a public hearing and if we’re not satisfied with it, then that would be our answer,” she said.
Town Board member Greg Doroski pointed out that an approval would set a precedent, and the Town Board should set a standard for expectations. “This is unacceptable. His answers … are a little all over the place.”
Ms. Doherty said there needs to be a meeting with the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Commission to clarify what the application process is. “Our process is all over the place,” she said.
Mr Doroski pointed out that the county and the state require detailed plans to qualify for affordable housing incentives. The Depot Lane project is privately funded, which means it doesn’t need to meet those requirements.
“But I think we also have a responsibility, before we bring this to the public, to give them kind of a fully baked plan, a fully baked idea that they can weigh in on. I still don’t have a really good understanding of it. I think that’s problematic,” he said.
He suggested putting together an application process with a list of expectations for applicants to fulfill. “Then we’re clear with applicants, because this is also our fault,” he said.
“That’s what my point was, but at the same time, now we’re going to hold up him because we didn’t get our act together,” Ms. Doherty responded. “I don’t know what the answer is at this point. How would you want him to spell all this out?”
Mr. Doroski said it’s important to be sure the Town Board isn’t upzoning a parcel and increasing property value unless they’re certain there’s a tangible project.
Ms. Doherty said she may not have been clear on what the town was looking for. Mr. Goggins said a manager would be hired to oversee daily operations on the property, maintenance, repairs, rent and act as a liaison to the town. There would be a 24-hour helpline for tenants for emergency issues.
“It’s a good reuse of structure that we already have in this town instead of sitting empty,” she said. Ms. Doherty said she’d work on setting up a meeting to clarify the process.
“People automatically think it’s a yes, like oh it’s doable, but then they come to the Town Board and we’re like oh it’s not a good spot … and they’ve already spent money and time,” she said. “We have to stop that cycle, figure out what to do.”
Supervisor Scott Russell excused himself from the discussion about Mr. Goggin’s application. He returned for the end of the discussion on setting a meeting to discuss a more solidified process for affordable housing.