Tuckahoe Housing Plan Panned By Neighbors Again

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Residents of Tuckahoe this week again blasted town officials and developers who are proposing a 34-unit apartment complex on a 2.6-acre parcel of land off Sandy Hollow Road.

At a meeting of the Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee on Tuesday evening, a crowd of two dozen residents questioned the motivations of the town and developers, the impacts the development would have on their region, and the legality of the proposal—while, at the same time, proclaiming that their opposition was not to the creation of “affordable housing” in general.

Representatives of the town’s Housing Authority and the developers, Georgica Green Ventures, tried to dispel what they said were misunderstandings about the project details and concerns about environmental and demographic impacts. But opponents were unconvinced.

“I understand we need affordable housing,” said Christina Stubelek. “But why can’t you build it on a piece of land that is made for it?”

Ms. Stubelek pointed to provisions in the town’s Critical Wildlands and Groundwater Protection Act, enacted in 2004, that designates the portion of eastern Tuckahoe known as Tuckahoe Woods—which includes the targeted parcel—as a critical groundwater protection overlay district, and seems to specifically rule out high-density housing projects in that area. The town has purchased more than 100 acres of woodlands within Tuckahoe Woods for preservation from development.

The 2.6-acre parcel on which the Town Housing Authority has proposed building four structures, totaling just over 21,100 square feet, and including 34 one-bedroom and studio apartments, would only be eligible for development with a single home under the property’s original zoning. In 2009, the town created a planned development district on the site—a special overlay designation that allows zoning restrictions to be sidestepped—to clear the way for 16 owner-occupied condominiums to be built by a private developer, also in four buildings of approximately the same size as those now proposed.

The 16-unit affordable housing development plan fell apart amid the recession and credit crisis, and the town has now proposed purchasing the property for about $1.2 million from the former developer and creating rental units instead. The town and its development partners, Georgica Green Ventures, say that the 34 units are the minimum necessary to justify the $12 million estimated cost of the development and still keep rents at a level that makes them affordable to middle-income residents. The apartments would average about $950 per month, the proposal says, a level determined to be affordable for people earning 60 percent of the median income in Suffolk County. Rent increases would remain linked to that scale in perpetuity.

Other concerns focused on the financial viability of the project once built and worries that it would end up derelict and poorly maintained because of funding shortages. Housing Authority members said that high demand for such apartments throughout the town assured there would be no financial difficulties.

Some residents also argued that, in light of the change in the design of the residences, with double the number of kitchens and a near doubling of the number of parking spaces, the project should have to come back to the Town Board via a brand new PDD application, rather than simply considering amendments to the existing PDD. The original application expired in 2012 but was extended for two years by the Planning Board, though the extension was contingent on the project not being changed. Town officials have said the footprint of the new project is similar enough to the approved PDD proposal to allow revisions rather than requiring a new application.

“Whether this PDD was approved or not, this is a different project,” Tuckahoe resident Frances Genovese said.

“It is a change of uses, and it necessitates a new PDD, a new application,” another resident, Sharon Carr, added. “I know it’s not convenient for the grant filing by the Housing Authority, but the facts demand it.”

The plans for the development Housing Authority and Georgica Green Ventures rely on an anticipated $7 million in housing grants from the state and federal governments to make the project affordable. The deadlines for applying for the grants in 2013, and getting construction under way in early 2014, is November 1.

Housing Authority representatives have argued in recent weeks, and again on Tuesday, that the need for housing for young, elderly and middle-income residents of all ages is desperate and should outweigh some of the concerns of residents. They said that mitigations such as a state-of-the-art septic treatment systems, architectural designs, strict occupancy controls and an on-site full-time property manager go above and beyond to address many of the concerns being espoused by neighbors.

“If I could sit down with each person in this room, I think I could convince 90 percent of you to support this,” Housing Authority Executive Director Richard Blowes said. “Judge us on what we’ve done so far,” he added, citing apartment complexes in Hampton Bays run by the Housing Authority and Georgica Green Ventures.

Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming nodded to the difficulty the town has faced finding places where housing can be created at costs low enough to allow rental or sales prices reachable by middle-income residents and, at the same time, not attracting staunch opposition from residents of the surrounding community to density increases or fears of demographic changes.

“This is such a drop in the bucket in terms of the need that is out there,” she said. “There’s never going to be a place where everybody says, ‘This is perfect, come do it here.’”

After a particularly frantic deluge of criticism from residents at the meeting, Mr. Blowes issued a challenge to the neighbors’ claims that they were firmly in support of the town creating affordable housing if done in the “right” area. He asked the residents to set about finding another parcel where the Housing Authority could build the proposed project and where residents would support it. If they can, he said, he would propose that the town purchase the Sandy Hollow property with Community Preservation Fund money and add it to the already expansive preserved land in the region.

“You say there has to be another place,” Housing Authortity Chairwoman Michelle Cannon said. “Give us clear direction where it is we need to go.”

There were no suggestions offered, but a new chorus of reiteration that the Sandy Hollow property was not the right one.

“This is too much,” North Sea resident Bill Clair said, “on too little of a piece of property.”

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