North Sea Residents Object To Possible Development On Land Slated For Preservation

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North Sea residents want a town-owned property to remain preserved, not sold and developed, as suggested by Southampton Town officials as a way to help with the construction of an affordable housing complex on the opposite end of the municipality.

“I would hate to have to strap myself to a tree, but there is so much wildlife here,” North Sea resident Kelly Gang said recently, while walking down a leaf-covered pathway on the land near her home. “It’s gorgeous. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of property. Why would you wreck this?”

The 10 acres at 36 Cedar Lane, known unofficially as the Conklin property, were acquired by the town in 2006 using $1.5 million in proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund and Community Housing Opportunity Fund. The original intention was to preserve one-third of the property and build affordable housing on the remaining land. But the property had never been subdivided prior to the town acquiring it, and that inaction stalled efforts to build 13 affordable houses, with an equal number of attached rental apartments, at the site.

At a recent Town Board meeting, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman proposed legislation that would resolve the stalemate and help provide affordable housing both on the site and in the western half of town.

As originally proposed, 3 acres would still be preserved as open space. With Mr. Schneiderman’s proposal, the town then would subdivide the remaining 7 acres into four lots, three of which would be auctioned off at market rate, with the fourth slated to accommodate affordable housing. The subdivision would follow the existing residential zoning on the property, which requires building lots of at least a half acre.

Proceeds from the sale of the three lots, which the supervisor estimated could top $1 million, would then be used to help offset the costs of constructing a 38-unit affordable housing complex at 41 North Phillips Avenue in Speonk. The 38-unit complex was recently reduced from a 51-unit model, and, as a result, in order to make the proposal financially viable, the supervisor said that it must secure $1.5 million in government subsidies. Most of that money, he explained, could come from the sale of the North Sea property.

“The idea here is basically to unravel this mess,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “There are 38 apartments that are scheduled for that Speonk development and, right now, its fate may rest on the ability to get the money that is trapped in the Conklin property.”

At the November 9 Town Board meeting, a handful of residents whose properties neighbor the land in North Sea spoke out against the idea. Ms. Gang pointed to the fact that there are several signs posted in the woods stating that the “property has been preserved for future generations by the Town of Southampton in its continuing commitment to protect the town’s scenic and natural places.” Mr. Schneiderman has since said that those signs were inaccurate.

When Mr. Schneiderman asked how many houses Ms. Gang thought could be built on the property, she responded: “One—and I’m not gonna let you build it, not behind my house. Not even one. Not even if you wanted to live there, Jay, and I like you.”

“You may be trying to subdivide something you can’t even develop,” Ms. Gang later warned the board. “Do your homework before you waste money on something you might not be able to do anyway.”

Concerns about how much wetlands make up the property prompted the board to delay further discussion until its meeting on Tuesday, November 22, at 6 p.m.

Neighbor Romi Sloan, who also lives near the Conklin property, agreed with Ms. Gang, noting that when she rebuilt her own home, she had to navigate difficult wetland applications.

“Not only is it extremely hilly back there, but we’ve got wetlands on two sides,” Ms. Sloan said. “How the hell are you going to get a road in there? We’ve been walking those woods for 20 years. They’re extremely hilly. They’re extremely filled with wetlands. I just can’t see it happening.”

Larry Penny, a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee, said the land needs to be preserved for a different reason: trees. “These are not ordinary wetlands,” he told the board. “These are Atlantic white cedar wetlands.”

Atlantic white cedar trees are listed as threatened by the New York Natural Heritage Program because of their rarity in the state. In the last century there has been a decline in the trees on western Long Island and the lower Hudson area due to the destruction of swamps where they grow. Many of the remaining swamps throughout the state are within developed landscapes without large natural buffers, according to state research. The Cedar Lane location is one of the easternmost examples of the trees remaining on Long Island, Mr. Penny said.

Mr. Schneiderman said he would like to meet with the neighbors to continue discussing their concerns. He said he is looking at alternatives to the four lots including selling development credits, having fewer lots, or other possibilities. However, he warned that simply selling the credits would generate only approximately $600,000 for the Community Housing Opportunity Fund, falling short of its original $1 million investment in the property.

“I’m going to do my best to unravel this and get the money back in a way that has the least impact on the community in that area,” he said. “I certainly understand the concerns.”

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