An amendment to East Hampton Town code that would allow more affordable apartments along Montauk Highway and in other commercial zones received positive feedback at a Town Board meeting on Thursday night, August 7.
During a public hearing, proponents of the amendment said the addition of such apartments, even a small number, would benefit the community.
“I don’t think the town has done or is doing enough,” said East Hampton resident Bill Taylor. “By amplifying your efforts by an order of magnitude, this need is met. When everybody talks about quality of life out here—whatever grunts and criticisms there are, it’s that we do not have sufficient affordable housing in town.”
The law would allow affordable housing units in a limited business overlay district, which is a residential district in which limited business uses are permitted. It would apply only to developed properties that already exist along Montauk Highway or North Main Street, and where low-impact commercial uses, like art galleries, offices and antiques stores, are already permitted.
Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who is sponsoring the change, said there are 34 properties in LBO zones throughout the town, and 22 of them currently have a commercial use within them.
East Hampton resident Paul Fiondella said the law has to be looked at more closely and should be more specifically written as to not allow nonconforming businesses or landowners to expand. Additionally, Mr. Fiondella believes it would be best not to allow families to live in an LBO zone, since they have traffic and commercial activities going on, but the areas would be fine for young adults. “In that instance, you have things you do not want: children playing in parking lots with cars, rats and garbage,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re slums, but it’s not an appropriate area for children.”
At Tuesday’s work session, board members agreed that it might be in the best interest of the community to allow two affordable apartments each for buildings that are in the LBO district, especially since the code already allows that in commercial districts.
While the amendment wouldn’t bring in a large number of affordable units, it’s a step in the right direction, according to Tom Ruhle, the town’s director of housing and community development. Mr. Ruhle said it is likely the tenants who fill the affordable units would have to pay approximately $1,300 to $1,400 per month, and would be required to live there year-round.
“The dragon that is [the lack of] affordable housing will not be slayed with one giant blow but a thousand arrows,” he said. “The Community Housing Opportunity Fund Advisory Committee … voted today unanimously to declare their support for this, and the committee believes all efforts to create affordable housing in the appropriate areas are needed. It’s more work for me, but I’m in favor of it.”
The Town Board is also considering creating a 2,000-square-foot limit on LBO-zoned buildings. In 2006, the code was updated to reflect this limitation, but it did not apply to preexisting commercial buildings in the LBO that may be converted to another commercial use. When such buildings were converted, they were allowed to expand, with no size limit.
By adding the 2,000-square-foot limit, the town expects to curb a possible increase in traffic in the LBO and to protect nearby residences from an influx of commerce.
Town Board members said on Tuesday that they would speak with the town attorney’s office about whether another public hearing should be held, since they are likely to make changes to the proposal.