The Southampton Town Board is poised to approve a much pilloried apartment complex in Tuckahoe at a special board meeting on June 12.
On Tuesday afternoon, following a nearly four-hour public hearing on the project, a Planned Development District known as Sandy Hollow Cove, the board shelved plans to vote on the project and scheduled the special meeting solely to do their final deliberations and vote. The board said holding the special meeting would give them time to consider the comments made at Tuesday’s hearing but still allow the developers and town Housing Authority to meet a deadline for applying for Suffolk County grants that will help fund the project.
In private conversations after Tuesday’s meeting, none of the five board members voiced strong opposition to the plan and all five seemed to be leaning in favor of it. Only two—Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst—said they were firmly in the “yes” column.
If approved, the 28 apartments would be made available to middle income workers, earning between $60,000 and $85,000 per year. The monthly rent for the apartments will be about $950 per month.
The project was brought to the Town Board by the Southampton Town Housing Authority, which would purchase the 2.6 acre property off Sandy Hollow Road for what is believed to be about $1.2 million in grant funding. The three apartment buildings would be constructed and managed by a private company, Georgica Green Ventures, which also built and runs the Woodbridge senior housing apartments in Hampton Bays.
The project relies on more than $800,000 in county grants and several million in federal tax credits to keep the costs at a level the apartments can be rented at affordable rates.
As a PDD application, the project will have to receive four votes in favor in order to be adopted.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” said Councilman Brad Bender, who lives in Flanders. “There is still some research that I’ve promised to do. But, personally, I’ll say this: I got lucky, I was able to buy my first house and fix it up and make some money on it…so my mortgage now is less than most people pay in rent. But if I wasn’t where I am with that, I would probably be in line to get myself into one of those apartments.”
Councilwoman Christine Scalera said she was still making up her mind and voiced empathy for the residents and the reasons for their objections. But she also said that she sees the project not as a choice between 28 apartments or two single-family homes, but between the apartments and 16 two-bedroom condominiums that were approved for the property in 2009. Even though that project’s approval expired, the property zoning still allows for it to be built, a prospect she said might not be so far fetched as the local economy roars back to full speed, and the current proposal would mean less density on the property.
“I am really struggling with it,” she said. “I understand the point that the that parcel is maybe not ideal but I also hear the urgent need for affordable housing townwide. It’s a hard thing to balance.”
Councilman Stan Glinka was non-committal but said he has heard many appeals from the business community and emergency services personnel for the town to find a way to create affordable housing in the town.
“We need workforce housing in the town,” he said. “I went to fire department dinners all spring and it’s all these young couples and I commended them on the jobs they’re doing finding young people to fill their ranks and the chiefs said to me: we need housing for them.”
While the need for housing throughout the town has been well documented in studies and personal accounts, if the board is about to approve the Sandy Hollow project it is sure to be an unpopular one with the residents of the Tuckahoe and North Sea neighborhoods that surround it.
Opponents submitted a petition on Tuesday with more than 800 individually filled out sheets in opposition, most sighthing concerns about traffic, overdevelopment and potential water pollution from the project.
For more than three hours on Tuesday afternoon, as they have done in several hours-long hearings on the proposal and a similar one a year ago, residents lined up to air passionate appeals for the Town Board to reject the apartments.
“I have 823 signed petitions saying we do not want you to do this,” Noelle Bailly said. She began flipping through the thick stack of petition sheets, reading off the comments signatories had left as reason for their opposition: “One or two homes, they’re crazy, traffic, traffic, traffic, density, don’t we have enough traffic, the approval process is being made a mockery of….”
The project’s location, far from a village downtown and not near public transportation routes, drew sharp criticism since the town’s own planning guidelines demand that it be within half a mile of a business district. Town planners noted that it would lie .53 miles from the North Sea business district, a faint representation of the sort of “walkable communities” that are spoken of in planning reports.
“Let me tell you what’s within half a mile: you have three bars and a liquor store,” said Dave Steiber. “And if you want to walk to them, God bless you. That is a dangerous road.”
Ms. Throne-Holst said the board had decided to waive the half-mile requirement for the project because it was essentially half a mile from North Sea’s small business district.
“At best, I think the people in this room would say you are being dismissive of their comments,” Stan Feyman said to the board, before directing his comments to Councilwoman Fleming, who has made her support for the project clear throughout, “Madame, you should have recused yourself after the first meeting when you indicated your bias for it. “
Ms. Fleming responded that the board had, in fact, heeded the residents comments and that was why the original 48-unit design had been shelved. ‘
“We do want to be responsive,” she said. “Folks who are here should understand the enormous impact they have had. There’s a whole building that is not there. On this Town Board the community has had a tremendous impact and on this project in particular.”
Some residents also picked apart the technical application, a point that the Town Board took heat for last year when it seemed to be hastily pushing a 48-apartment design toward approval to meet funding application deadlines. Neighborhood resident Justice Phillips asked the board why the project had no per-application hearings or per-application summary report, as is required under the PDD guidelines. The supervisor said that while it was technically a new application, since a larger version had been presented and vetted already they town did not see a reason to go through the full per-application process.
“But what about a report that I can look at when I get home from work at 9 p.m.,” Mr. Phillips said. “It just seems rushed.”
The supervisor gaveled the meeting into a brief recess after one resident, Sharon Carr, refused to yield the speakers podium when her three-minute speaking time ran out before she was finished going through a laundry list of factual mistakes she had identified in the thick application document. Opponents took the opportunity of the recess to approach board members one-on-one to share more of their grievances.
Town Planning And Development Administrator Kyle Collins countered calls by the residents in opposition for the town to seek to address its housing needs through the creation of apartments in homes and accessory buildings. Incentives for homeowners to create legal apartments in their homes have yielded just 125 units since 1999, Mr. Collins said. Incentives to developers for additional units in subdivisions if some are sold at below market values have generated just three, he added.
“So even with all the incentivizing and encouraging of accessory apartments, the town has not generated the affordable housing that is necessary,” Mr. Collins said. “The most recent affordable housing study by the county, in 2007, outlined demands for the town: 3,500. It projected that 7,500 units will be needed by 2020.”
Mr. Collins said that a lack of sewer systems on the East End has been the primary roadblock to apartment-style development. The town has a multifamily zoning designation in its code but it has never been used. On-site septic treatment, like the Baby BESST system the Sandy Hollow developers have proposed, appears to provide a potential solution to the hurdle, though many residents also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the system.
Group for the East End representative Jen Heartnagle said that what should be considered is the overall impact of whatever development is done, not just what the improvement in one design is with the addition of a high-tech treatment system.
Amid a chorus of calls for the hearings to continue, the board voted to close the public portion of the review process. There will be a public comment period at today’s meeting, though the comments would not be part of the official record on the application.
Neighbors have threatened to sue if the project is approved.
There was some confusion among residents about when the special meeting would begin. Ms. Throne-Holst, in announcing the board’s plans for the special meeting, said it would be at 1p.m. But when the board approved the scheduling later in the evening, after most of the residents had departed, the timing was set for a noon start. Ms. Throne-Holst said later that the board had initially planned to hold the meeting at 1 p.m. but had decided to move it up in order to allow more time for public comment because the meeting had to adjourn by 2 p.m. so the town Planning Board could start it’s regularly scheduled meeting. She said on Tuesday evening that the official public notice for the meeting would be left at 1 p.m. so no one would miss the chance to comment before the board votes.