As developers seek time ‘to explore alternatives,’ split Town Board tables Cutchogue Woods vote

The Southold Town Board voted Tuesday to table for 30 days a resolution on a change of zone to allow for the Cutchogue Woods affordable housing proposal in Cutchogue.

The project’s builder, Dave Gallo of Georgica Green Ventures, requested ahead of the expected vote that the board table the resolution for the approved 30 days. In a letter from the builder’s attorneys, they said the time would allow them to “explore alternatives that might better address the significant housing needs [in town].”

Supervisor Scott Russell and Councilwoman Jill Doherty voted against tabling the resolution. Mr. Russell said if the applicant wants to change the proposal at this point, he’d recommend re-submitting the project. He added that changes at this point should require a new public hearing.

A participant over Zoom questioned how more time before a vote would make a difference, noting that critics have primarily taken issue with the project’s location.

Longtime Southold Town resident Rona Smith, who owns the parcel where the project was proposed and is a partner in the project, said the tabling of the resolution gives the developers “time to satisfy some of [the town’s]their preferences.”

“We can’t change the location but we can change other aspects,” Ms. Smith said. “We can try to make it more palatable, because we really don’t want to walk away from this.” 

After the meeting, she said the developers are considering an ownership model for the project. She added that they’re also expanding the buffer from 60 feet to 200 feet along Route 48, so the development would be “invisible,” and plan to use solar energy. The extra time is to “work out the viability of all these details,” she said.

Ms. Smith pitched the 24 town-house style rental units at 15690 Middle Road in Cutchogue earlier this year in a partnership with Georgica Green Ventures, which has built several other workforce housing developments on the East End. 

In order to move forward, the Cutchogue Woods development needs the Town Board to approve a zone change from Agricultural Conservation to Affordable Housing District. At a public hearing that was extended across two recent town meetings, residents expressed mixed opinions on Cutchogue Woods. 

Many lauded the proposal as much needed housing in Southold Town while others criticized the development for its location and expressed concern for the environment. The Southold Town Planning Board advised against the zone change ahead of the hearing.

A concept for Cutchogue Woods proposed by Rona Smith.

A former chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, Ms. Smith has emphasized that her project is meant to address the affordable housing crisis in Southold. She has also, in response to environmental concerns, offered to preserve 50% of the site in perpetuity. 

The town has been working with a consultant on a plan ahead of a potential referendum on a new transfer tax meant to fund housing solutions, and discussing ways to refine the process for developers to propose affordable housing. 

At a Town Board work session earlier Tuesday, board members engaged in a heated discussion over whether or not the zone change should be approved. 

“It’s frustrating to me because I feel like the town and the community give a lot of lip service to affordable housing,” said Councilwoman Sarah Nappa.  “And prior to Vineyard View, there had not been an affordable project in this town for 20 years. And for everyone to say that it is such a crisis and for there to have been no action for the last 20 years is disgraceful.”

She said she understands that people have concerns about the location, but “there is no right location because we have seen them closer to the hamlet centers where there are neighbors that don’t want them.”

She emphasized that the decision is not between Cutchogue Woods and preservation, and it’s a privately owned parcel. One development is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis, she added, and if the development is voted down there’s a chance it would be built into “more unobtainable housing.”

“For you to say this wouldn’t help people, that is asinine.”

Councilwoman Sarah Nappa to Supervisor Scott Russell

Councilwoman Louisa Evans countered that the town spent years writing a comprehensive plan, which recommends concentrating affordable housing in the HALO zones and hamlet centers. “It’s not the project itself,” she said, but rather the location.

Town Board member Greg Doroski suggested expanding HALO zones to remedy a lack of available land to develop for housing, or targeting other sites for Cutchogue Woods in a way similar to the way the town handled Sports East. 

Mr. Russell said he doesn’t agree with expanding HALO zones. He suggested that people have been “using HALOs as a reason to oppose affordable housing.”

“We have to come up with better and unique ways,” Ms. Doherty said of the housing crisis. “Hopefully the referendum will pass and we can have the financing [to work on solutions].”

Mr. Russell questioned who the project is helping. 

“So many people are excluded from participating because of just the income alone,” he said. “If you had a project that allowed for a higher median income you could include more people.”

“Regardless of that, I think it is very short-sighted, Scott, for you to say, ‘Who is this actually going to help?’ That is crazy. The median home price in Cutchogue today is $905,000. Okay? That is crazy,” Ms. Nappa said. “You would have to put down 20%, which is $180,000 in cash. With today’s mortgage rate your payment would be at minimum, that doesn’t include tax or insurance, $4,200 a month. For you to say this wouldn’t help people, that is asinine.”

“I’m not saying it won’t help people. I said, ‘Who is it going to help here?’” Mr. Russell said. “Most local earners cannot afford that, you’re 100% right. So how come they can’t apply for this? If they can’t afford that, yet they still can’t apply for this because they make as a couple more than $69,000 a year, then they’re excluded from that.”

The people in the middle are “getting squeezed out,” he said. “Why don’t they get the right to apply?” 

Ms. Nappa pointed out that the Cutchogue Woods project is not meant to solve every facet of the housing crisis in Southold. She said the development, which is publicly funded, set criteria that meets federal guidelines.

“We’ve worked on the masterplan for so long … and this affects that,” Ms. Doherty said. “We’re struggling with outweighing the good or bad and it has nothing to do with the proposed project itself, it’s the location and how do we want our master plan? I totally agree, we need to make the housing plan a priority and figure out where do we want to see these overlay zones and where do we not want to see them.”

Ms. Evans, a Republican, voted along with the Town Board’s three Democrats — Ms. Nappa, Mr. Doroski and Brian Mealy — to table the resolution.