Featured Story

Southold Town Board unanimously approves restrictions on house size

After years of debate and months of delay, the Southold Town Board has unanimously passed a law that limits house size in Southold.

Local civic groups have worked with the Town Board on the legislation for more than a year. A vote on the proposed legislation was postponed after a June public hearing to accommodate concerns from some residents about roof restrictions. Most residents at a public hearing ahead of the vote on Tuesday night, which lasted more than an hour, spoke in favor of the law and a couple even questioned whether “this new rule goes far enough.”

“I think there’s a public misperception that the associations drafted this local law and the Town Board went along,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “The local community, over the past year or so, has been saying, ‘What are you doing about this?’ ”

“It’s a place to start and we’re committed to … changing it as needed,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said. 

At the hearing, civic leader and Southold resident Margeret Steinbugler highlighted the results of a recent survey conducted by North Fork Civics. Out of more than a thousand respondents, nearly 80% said they believe it is “very important” or “essential” for the town to focus on limiting house size in the next two years. 

“The top two [concerns were] overdevelopment and cleanliness of the bays and Long Island Sound,” she said. “I think that requiring reasonably sized houses is very supportive of the residents’ concerns about over development … and is also addressing the concerns about the cleanliness of the bays and the sound, because much of the environmental pressure on the bays and the sound comes from waste from homes.”

Orient Association member and resident Drianne Benner argued there has been “overwhelming support” to limit house size.

“Value is the price you pay for something, which in the case of a house, is highly dependent on location. What has created so much value in Southold is the beautiful and unspoiled nature of our historical hamlet centers and open [vistas],” she said. “By preserving the scale of our communities, this law will only enhance the value of residence homes.”

Orient Association president Barbara Friedman said as an architect herself, she was initially sympathetic to opposition to the proposed effective date of the code.

“Now it is four months later and I am less sympathetic,” she said. “I understand that it is a little bit difficult to understand the pyramid law, but I assure you that architects and engineers are well versed in accommodating such provisions. Not only is this pyramid the least restrictive of any East End town, but Southold Town has now included an alternate compliance path similar to what is now in place for front yard setbacks, allowing neighborhood character to dictate an appropriate height.”

Some locals argued the new law would swing “the pendulum too far.”

“We already have buildable footprint, height requirements, property setbacks and other rules. In addition, people like me have other non-legal requirements such as flood zones and water tables, which further reduces the types of homes [that people] can build,” one person said, arguing the sky plane limitations are “overkill.”

Local architect Clay Coffey questioned how the law would impact pre-existing nonconforming houses. He emphasized that it can take months to obtain building permits and variance approvals.

“That kind of delay in time is a real hardship for people working on these things,” he said. “This is certainly going to create more need for variances.”

The newly passed legislation applies to residential dwellings in the A-C, R-40, R-80, R-120, R-200 and R-400 zoning districts. Maximum square footage would be scaled based on lot area, which is defined as buildable land. 

Lots beyond 200,000 square feet, or 4.59 acres, will permit homes as large as 10,100 square feet plus 1% of any additional lot area. Lots containing up to 10,000 square feet of area, or a little less than a quarter acre, will allow homes up to 2,100 square feet. 

New construction, re-construction or improvement of any dwellings is now limited by standards set in the new code or by a variance not to exceed the average gross floor area of dwellings in the immediate area, as determined by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Existing dwellings that exceed maximum square footage will be deemed nonconforming.

Farm labor housing is exempt from gross floor area restrictions set in the legislation. 

Buildings must be within the sky plane, unless the chief building inspector deems it not possible, in which case the overall height of a building or structure may not exceed the average height of adjacent parcels within 500 feet to each side.