Tuckahoe Affordable Housing Project Draws Support, Criticism

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Two well-organized groups of residents filled the People’s Room at Town Hall on Tuesday night, alternately imploring the Town Board to marshal the approval of a 34-unit apartment complex proposed by the municipality’s Housing Authority and private developers, or to shoot it down as a threat to the environmental health and quality of life of their Tuckahoe neighborhood.

The proposal, known as Sandy Hollow Cove, has been decried by critics as an unfair shoe-horning of nearly three dozen living units onto a property that surrounding zoning would only allow a single house on. They have said the town has been disingenuous about details of the project and that it could cause water pollution.

But representatives of the town’s Housing Authority, a quasi-public agency tasked with creating more housing options for middle-income people, say the project is a unique opportunity to create a badly needed type of housing for young couples and individuals who cannot afford to purchase a home and struggle to find suitable living arrangements.

Dozens of speakers turned out for a three-hour public hearing on Tuesday, to either voice their support or opposition to the project.

East Quogue resident Mathew Feeney, 24, said that despite having a good job and roots in the community, he is still unable to find a place he can afford on his own. He added that apartments in the range proposed for the Sandy Hollow development—$850 to $950 for one-bedroom and studio apartments—are badly needed by young people returning to the community from college.

“I pay my taxes, I work hard, I don’t rely on anyone else. I have a credit score over 700. But still, at this age, I live in a house with three other people, because I cannot find a place that’s affordable to live,” Mr. Feeney said.

Representatives of the town’s civil servants union and several nurses from Southampton Hospital also advocated for the need for more affordable housing for young professionals in the town, though they did not endorse the Sandy Hollow project specifically.

“We are increasingly forced to look farther and farther west for qualified people,” Southampton Hospital CEO Robert Chaloner said. “I can’t say I endorse this particular project, but, in terms of ‘in my backyard,’ we do want doctors and nurses who can take care of us in our backyards.”

Others said that they type of affordable apartments proposed at Sandy Hollow are critical to helping generations of local young people remain in the community they were raised in. Several nodded to the loss of friends, family or co-workers because of the inability to find affordable housing.

“It’s strange to think now that when I grew up my teachers either taught my parents or grew up with my parents—it was generation after generation of the same people,” Jade Congleton said. “That is dwindling. The doors are starting to close on the people I grew up with. My daughters are not going to be able to afford to live here.”

“What is the message we are sending to our young people?” Minerva Perez added. “Do not have children, do not get sick, do not get old. Welcome to Southampton.”

Opponents’ ire was focused largely on the density of the proposed development, which calls for more than double the number of units of a condo project approved for the same property in 2008, with little opposition from neighbors. That project would have created 16 two-bedroom units, though the square footage and estimated occupancy limits would have been largely the same as the revised proposal.

“We don’t feel the town should be pigeon-holed into following a model that, in terms of density, may work for other areas—this town is not other areas,” said Group for the East End representative Jen Hartnagle, nodding to claims by the developer that the number of units is the minimum that would make the project profitable enough for them to be worth pursuing.

“This project seems like a bait-and-switch that was done in the middle of the night,” neighbor Stan Feyman said. “These people are being tarred with innuendo and the brush of being [NIMBYists],” he added, referring to project opponents.

“It is not the town’s business to make sure a developer makes a profit,” said Noelle Bailly, who, with her husband, Oliver, owns the property immediately next to the proposed site. “This is not a good idea. We’re not considering what is actually at stake here with putting this through.”

Representatives of the Housing Authority said they would be able to keep a strict cap on the occupancy of each apartment and that the pool of people considered for tenants would strictly regulated by income levels. They also said that even though the project would be relying on $7 million in federal aid, mostly in the form of tax breaks, there would be no strings attached by federal requirements. Any parameters for occupancy and preference for tenants, such as fire department or ambulance volunteers, that the town saw fit to impose would be unencumbered.

“Applicants will be rigorously screened by the Housing Authority—no one who fails to provide two years of paid income tax returns will be looked at any further,” said Barbara Fair, a Housing Authority board member. “Expected tenants will be local workers … and our children, and people who are ability impaired. The 16 first-floor units will be wheelchair accessible. This will be an inter-generational community.”

Ms. Fair noted that traffic and environmental assessment studies have been completed for the new project, and they showed that it would have minimal impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods. But opponents said it appears, based on the versions of the two reports on the town’s website, that the studies were done for the original 16-unit project and were simply retitled and submitted—with several segments still clearly referring to the original proposal, and including outdated information.

Other questions focused on unexplained changes in the plan, like the redesign of water main installations to service the property, which were shifted from extending mains on County Road 39 more than a mile, allowing many other residents to take advantage of county water, to ones coming from North Sea Road, just a few hundred feet away. A letter from Southampton Fire District Commissioner David Price expressed displeasure with the project, though it appeared to be based on the belief that the project had been approved already.

Residents said the presence of increased sewage flows, despite the use of a sewage treatment system, should require that the developers provide county water mains for neighbors.

A consultant for the developer said the sewage treatment system, known as Baby Besst, would have redundancies to protect against failure, and would require daily on-site inspections and an emergency response protocol should some part of the system fail or power be lost to the property. If the system were to completely fail, Mathew Shiner, whose company installs the Baby Besst systems, said it would still capture waste in a holding tank that could be pumped out and hauled away.

There were other approaches suggested as well. Rather than tailoring zoning on small parcels to accommodate more density to get prices down, others said the town should tweak zoning laws to allow more accessory apartments on residential properties, which could provide affordable living arrangements as well as economic stimulation.

“If the town allowed more units at people’s houses, above garages … it would serve this purposes too,” Joe Kirby said. “It would provide more work for carpenters and lumber yards, and it would disperse traffic.”

“We’re all in favor of affordable housing, but there are a lot of other options,” Tim Corwin said. “If you want to take this parcel and build four affordable houses on it, I’ll back you every step of the way.”

Board members said they will attend the Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee meeting next Tuesday, September 3, and scheduled another public hearing on the project for Tuesday, September 24.

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