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Town Board contemplates affordable housing proposals

The Southold Town Board expressed concern yet again about the application process for developers wishing to build affordable housing, referring to two proposals in Cutchogue. 

Supervisor Scott Russell added a request to Tuesday’s work session agenda to rescind the 30-day tabling of a vote to approve a zone change for the Cutchogue Woods development, based on a procedural issue. The 24-unit affordable housing project has come under fire from some residents, citing environmental concerns about its location.

Ahead of a scheduled July 19 vote, the developer asked for a 30-day delay to consider possible project changes and indicated that it might switch from a rental to ownership model. Although a resolution on the zone change was ultimately tabled again at Tuesday’s regular meeting, Mr. Russell pointed out that any changes to the Cutchogue Woods application at this stage would require a new public hearing. 

“I think we’re getting a little off base of what we’re supposed to be approving here, because we’re supposed to be approving an overlay zone,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said. “Do we want affordable housing here or not? Not what’s your design of affordable housing.”

Councilman Greg Doroski said Mr. Russell raised “a very legitimate procedural issue” and wished they’d had a discussion before tabling the resolution. Councilwoman Louisa Evans also agreed with the town supervisor. 

“I think that we were all tired and trying to be nice by saying that we would allow him to come and present something different,” she said, indicating regret over her yes vote. “I don’t mind that we extended our decision 30 days but we shouldn’t be taking in any more information about it.”

Even if the project developers make “compelling” changes to their plans, they would have to reapply, she added. 

“I do agree with this discussion and where it’s going but they asked for the vote to be tabled for 30 days,” said Councilwoman Sarah Nappa. “I think that we can honor that.”

Councilman Brian Mealy said he agrees with Ms. Nappa. “Two weeks I don’t think is a deal breaker,” he said.

“I just want to get back to, this is about overlay change of zone, not about if they’re doing rentals or ownership,” Ms. Doherty said.

Later in the work session, Mr. Russell stepped out while board members discussed t a 12-unit affordable housing proposal for Depot Lane in Cutchogue. Mr. Russell has recused himself in the past from involvement in the Depot Lane proposal, citing a “perceived conflict of interest.”

Board members criticized the lack of a concrete management plan for the development and questioned the application process for affordable housing. 

“I think we need to hammer out what this process is and what we’re looking to move people onto the next steps before we let anyone else into the zone change process,” Mr. Doroski said. 

Ms. Doherty pointed out that the Depot Lane application has been around for years now and said the developer is asking for a decision. 

“I kind of like the reuse of a building. That’s what I’d like to see more of for affordable housing. But I do have concerns, which we’ve expressed to him,” Ms. Evans said. “When you’re doing rental apartments you need to have a really good management plan for them because you don’t want to end up with these affordable units that aren’t being managed well, in a way that keeps them in good repair and other things like that.”

Mr. Doroski said he feels part of the application process needs to include gathering information to figure out which projects are feasible and sustainable before the Town Board approves an overlay zone.

“Right now, essentially, we’re having an applicant that says, ‘trust me, I’m going to have one of my kids manage it, or I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do that.’ It’s like trying to hold water in your hand,” Mr. Doroski said, pointing out that application’s contrast with the detailed plans for Cutchogue Woods. “I guess I’m having a hard time feeling comfortable allowing a use that is not currently allowed in the area and we’re doing it through an overlay zone and it feels like we’re setting ourselves up for trouble here.”

Ms. Nappa pointed out that there is an application procedure for affordable housing in town code and suggested board members review it “and see if we feel this applicant has fulfilled that.”

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