April 19, 2006
History was made in Southold last week as members of the town board voted to give the go-ahead on a change of zone that would allow for the first-ever affordable housing project under the town's new affordable housing district legislation.
But while Town Supervisor Scott Russell gave the project the nod, he did so grudgingly.
In a 5-1 vote, the board passed three resolutions that set the stage for the proposed Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Inc.'s Cottages at Mattituck. The proposal calls for 22 affordable homes on a 7.4-acre parcel bordered by Factory and Sound Avenues.
Marianne Garvin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the CDC, said the corporation is delighted. "We look forward to collaborating with the town to build a wonderful development."
The board voted on three issues: the state environmental quality review, which stated that the project would have no negative impacts on the environment; a change of zone from the current R-80 to the town's new AHD district zone; and on the transfer of 10 sanitary flow credits that would allow the project to proceed.
Russell, although he voted yes, was not pleased. "If I have to choose between 22 houses and nothing, I'll choose 22, but I do so regretfully," he said at a work session before the meeting.
Russell said he pledged his support because the CDC agreed not to pursue, through the planning board, the additional two houses and accessory apartments proposed in the original plan: "I kept my end of the deal and I expect them to keep theirs."
Recently, Garvin said after reviewing comments made by the town board and residents at a public hearing held on January 31, key changes were made to the plan, including the removal of accessory apartments.
Russell believes the town's new legislation regarding affordable housing, adopted last year, is "seriously flawed." He said, "It is simplistic to think that the crisis can be successfully addressed by simply building more houses on smaller lots. Affordable housing communities should be designed to be part of an existing community, not superimposed on it."
In addition, said the supervisor, the goal should be to protect the character of existing communities, not drastically change them.
Instead of the current plan, Russell feels that the CDC project should have featured attached units in a smaller cluster, which "would strengthen the residential character of the new community and create natural buffers with open space of woods and parkland around it."
Clustering would have allowed for equal or greater density. The supe would also have favored units varying in size to accommodate a range of applicants from single young professionals to married couples. And open space buffers and protected woodlands would have minimized the effects on the existing community.
"If we are planning to be successful at meeting our housing goals, we need to recognize that the Levittown mentality has got to change," said Russell.
The supervisor pointed out the CDC project will cost the taxpayers about $1.5 million dollars in subsidies from the county and state.
Councilman Al Krupski took a lone stand and voted against all three resolutions: "I really felt that the whole thing didn't meet the spirit of affordable housing."
Krupski feels what's needed are small rental units scattered throughout town. "This kind of zoning, on large parcels, harkens back to the old affordable housing projects — big developments on vacant pieces of land."
Scattering the density throughout town, he said, would lessen the impact on a particular hamlet in regard to traffic and an increased burden on school systems.
"My objection is that this project was run through the town by the developer," said Krupski, who said that the CDC "steered the whole thing" with the backing of Suffolk County. "It was not a town project, and we shouldn't have endorsed it," he said.
But, while the vote had some seeing red, Councilman Bill Edwards was pleased to give the project the green light. "I was impressed with the quality of the debate during the hearings and that the people in the neighborhood, though concerned about traffic and the number of houses, did not retreat to naked NIMBYism," he said.
Edwards said he voted in favor of the rezoning because during the campaigns of 2003 and 2005 he'd heard cries from a "vast majority of Southolders" who "want affordable housing for younger working people, to keep them in the community."
Edwards cited the project's hamlet-based location and close proximity to a shopping center as a win-win. "The Cottages at Mattituck represent smart growth planning at its best," he said. "The people who will purchase those homes already live and, in most cases, work, within Southold Town. They are our friends, our neighbors, or relatives. If not here, where? If not now, when?"
Russell said he and Krupski plan to place the AHD legislation squarely back on the table for discussion at the next town board meeting. Phillip Beltz, Southold town housing administrator, will join the discussion.
Krupski said the previous town board did a good job on the AHD legislation but now, "it needs to be refined."