The Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee on Saturday morning hosted representatives of Windmill Village LLC to discuss an ongoing feasibility study for an affordable housing apartment complex in Wainscott.
While some CAC members said they are in full support of affordable housing in the hamlet, provided there are certain guarantees regarding residency requirements, others argued that Wainscott is not the appropriate location for such a project.
Windmill Village is a nonprofit, 501c3 organization that has built and manages several affordable housing complexes in East Hampton Town, including Windmill Village I, Windmill Village II and Whalebone Village in East Hampton, and St. Michael’s Senior Housing in Amagansett. They are currently working with the town to use 30 acres of vacant town-owned land along Stephen Hands Path to build 48 units in eight structures with a 3,000-square-foot community center behind the Child Development Center of the Hamptons. The project is expected to cost about $15 million.
The development would be supported by federal, state and county funds, and additional subsidies would be needed to keep the complex up and running. Tenants would pay 30 percent of their annual income in rent, supplemented by low-income tax credits.
CAC Co-Chair Rick DelMastro offered his support for the project but echoed the concerns of some on the committee about whether a preference put in place by the town for East Hampton residents would be upheld in the long term. “We want to help, [but] are we really going to be able to help?” he asked. “How are you going to control it?”
Windmill Village LLC Board Chair Michael DeSario insisted that although the project would be supported by government money, it would still be possible to have some local control, such as enforcing a local preference for available units. A local preference means that current East Hampton residents on the waiting list for an affordable unit who meet the necessary criteria would be selected first.
Town of East Hampton Director of Housing Tom Ruhle said that the length of the town’s waiting list would make it near impossible for any out-of-towners to be chosen for units. “In some cases, we have waiting lists that go back to 2000, and we’ve never run out of residents,” Mr. Ruhle said, referring to existing lists for the other complexes.
Qualifying annual income limits for the housing complex in Wainscott would be $36,000 for individuals and $42,000 for couples.
Some CAC members questioned whether Wainscott would be financially accommodating to individuals and families with such low annual household incomes.
“Do the amenities exist here for this population? I think that’s a question that needs to be answered,” said CAC member Bruce Solomon, suggesting that higher prices for goods and services in the local area might be cost-prohibitive. He pointed out that even $20 to have something dry-cleaned could put a strain on the household budgets of low-income residents.
Mr. DelMastro agreed with Mr. Solomon: “I think you need to add that to the list of things this committee is concerned about.”
The Wainscott business district has many locally owned shops. The Wainscott Shopping Plaza on Montauk Highway houses a Chinese restaurant, deli, liquor store, nail salon, bakery, surf shop and gym. Other local businesses include a pizzeria, seafood shop, dry cleaner, pet groomer, pet store, hardware store, veterinarian, frame shop, carpet store, two bagel stores, several antiques shops, a Hess gas station and a Sleepy’s. A HomeGoods home furnishings store is currently under construction there as well. Approximately three miles to the west is the Bridgehampton Commons, where there is a Kmart, Payless ShoeSource and T.J. Maxx, among other retailers.
CAC member Richard Myers expressed concern that the proposed area for the affordable housing complex is not “walkable” for those without personal transportation.
The committee also briefly discussed the impact of 48 new housing units on the tiny Wainscott School, an elementary school that currently has only 20 students. Wainscott School Board President David Eagan had expressed concern about the impact on the school back in July.
Gerry Mooney, manager of Windmill Village II and Whalebone Village, said that the impact would not be a concern because most of the students who would be housed at the new complex are already attending school somewhere in East Hampton and would most likely stay where they are currently attending.
Mr. DeSario said in the event that the Wainscott School becomes filled to capacity, additional students would most likely be sent to the John Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton Village.
“I feel we need to do a little more study on it,” Mr. DeSario added. “We’re concerned about it as I’m sure you are too.”
The board of Windmill Village will continue to work with the town on the feasibility study, Mr. DeSario said, in the hopes of coming to an agreeable solution to the problems addressed.
“It needs more examination, but so far it looks promising,” he said.