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Planners draft policy for affordable housing proposals, tentative discussion set for Tuesday

The Southold planning department has outlined a draft policy for evaluating incoming affordable housing proposals, following several applications for Affordable Housing District zone changes in recent years. 

Revisions are being made to the draft presented at a Town Board work session last Tuesday, with a discussion tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6. Planning staff recommended establishing an affordable housing review committee to examine zone change applications with limited concept plans for proposed development. The committee would advise the Town Board about whether applications should progress to next stages of the process.

It was recommended that committee members include the town supervisor, two Town Board liaisons, the Planning Board and department staff, the chairs of the architectural review committee and Housing Advisory Commission and the chief building inspector. 

A preliminary review process for AHD zone change applications would require the developer to present concept plans, a portfolio and qualifications; address funding sources; and outline a build budget. The committee may use a qualifying index closely related to the Comprehensive Plan’s to review proposals, planning staff said. 

After a concept application is submitted, the Town Board could opt to discuss it during a work session and then hold a public hearing on the requested zone change. The Planning Board and HAC would offer feedback during the review process, and there may be a preliminary informational public session.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty clarified that developers could come in with concept plans before they purchase a property, provided they have a letter from the owner confirming they’re a potential buyer. 

“If this [review] board says, ‘Okay, this concept plan works based on all these departments,’ and moves it to the Town Board, it doesn’t mean that it’s moving towards approval. It just means that it fits our criteria,” Ms. Doherty said. “Now it goes to the next phase, which is whole entire board review. And then it goes into the next phase of, okay, the Town Board is willing to go forward with this. So then that’s when they spend money, buy the parcel if they haven’t already, do the full application, pay that fee, and do the whole site plan so we can do SEQRA and everything else.”

“The goal here, right, is to I think have some clarity in the process to protect the applicant, to protect the Town Board, to protect the community, so everyone is aligned with what the expectations are,” Councilman Greg Doroski added. 

Town Board members emphasized during the work session the importance of considering the financial feasibility of proposed projects. They also considered eliminating the 24-unit cap on affordable housing projects, and evaluating areas in town that could accommodate affordable housing developments. 

The discussion comes ahead of a November referendum to add a half-percent tax to real estate transfers specifically to fund housing solutions. The Town Board has been working with consulting agency Nelson Pope Voorhis on a plan for the fund. 

Later in the work session, Town Board members clarified that although there will be an outline, the housing plan likely won’t be fully complete by the time of the vote.

However, Mr. Doroski said that, based on the consultant’s timeline, it should be close to completion by then. “This is something that we need to do for the community and the way that we put ourselves in the best position to get this referendum passed is by getting as close to a finished plan as possible so the public knows exactly what they’re voting on,” he said.

“We are going to have a product to give to the public so they know what they’re voting on. But it’s not going to be complete,” Ms. Doherty responded.

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