Affordable Housing Projects Proceed, With Hurdles Ahead

East Hampton Town has begun planning to develop affordable housing at the former Triune Baptist Church property, though there are several hurdles to achieving the number of units the town had hoped for when it purchased the land and a neighboring property in 2019. Kyril Bromley

Plans for an affordable housing development in northern Wainscott face some potentially costly hurdles because of environmental and infrastructure needs.

The use of two parcels of land East Hampton Town purchased in 2019 with the stated intention of developing an affordable housing complex may require the use of an advanced septic treatment system and the extension of county water mains to reach the property — both potentially costly components for what would still be a relatively small project — in order to proceed.

The East Hampton Town Board this week took the first step toward the long planned project since it purchased the land in 2018, beginning discussions of putting a special zoning “overlay” on the property, designating it specifically eligible for increased density development for the purpose of creating affordable housing.

Under the town code’s allowances for such specially targeted properties, the 6.4-acre property could technically be developed with up to 51 apartments or 13 single family homes. Under the existing zoning in the region, the two lots could not be subdivided and could play host to only two homes.

But town planner Eric Schantz told the Town Board that because the two properties the town owns lie in an area designated as being crucial to protecting groundwater supplies, the actual potential density of development is actually much lower, even under the affordable housing overlay.

The Suffolk County Department of Health has imposed more stringent limits on septic “flow” in much of northern Wainscott that would mean the property would be capped at 13 apartments or just six individual homes under normal development guidelines.

Those numbers could be approximately doubled — to 26 apartments or 13 homes — should the town be able to transfer development rights from land elsewhere in the surrounding region or employ a septic treatment system that would greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen and other nutrients released into the ground by the toilets in the development.

Schantz said he wasn’t sure if a sewage treatment plant would be economically feasible in a development that would still only be 26 apartment units at the most.

The Gansett Meadows development, which consists of 37 subsidized rental units constructed by the East Hampton Housing Authority, employed a sewage treatment system, which added about $1.2 million to the cost of development.

Town officials have said in the past that they are looking to use the property for an apartment-style development, rather than single family homes or condo units, like in the town’s most recently completed affordable housing development on Accabonac Road. Officials have said they are hoping to get about 25 to 30 apartments on the property.

The town’s own guidance on affordable housing developments presents other hurdles as well. The town’s comprehensive plan sets several criteria for the siting of affordable housing projects using the special increased density overlay zones, including requiring that they be close to public transportation, be connected to public water mains and fit into the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

The project wouldn’t present much of a deviation from the development of the Route 114 corridor, the planning official said, since there are bungalow-style motels and cluster of small cottages nearby and the property is along a Suffolk County bus route. But the nearest Suffolk County Water Authority mains are about a quarter-mile away in Sag Harbor Village — a distance that would be costly to bridge, even if the smattering of other property owners along the way were willing to chip in a share of the construction costs.

“I think this site can or currently meets … four of the five criteria,” Schantz said. “The fifth is something that needs to be resolved. It’s not an impediment to adding the overlay designation, but it certainly would be an impediment to an affordable housing complex being constructed.”

The town bought the Route 114 property in two separate purchases for a total of about $1.8 million. The larger of the two lots, just under 4 acres, was bought from the Triune Baptist Church congregation, which had long marked the property with a sign declaring it the “future site of Triune Baptist Church.” The other lot has an existing 1,600-square-foot residence on it that the town is currently renting at below-market rates.

The property is immediately adjacent to a cluster of eight small cottages that is owned by the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, a quasi-public group formed to administer funding contributed by the developers of the Watchcase condos, in lieu of incorporating affordably priced apartments amid the luxury condos as part of the resurrection of the former Bulova watchcase factory. When the town purchased the Triune property, there had been some hope that trust would be able to combine efforts with the town for a joint redevelopment that would boost the yield of both properties.

The town is also in the midst of formulating its plans for another affordable housing development on land it purchased last year on Pantigo Road.

The town has already approved an affordable housing overlay on the entire 12-acre property, though the town only plans to use about 7 acres of the land for housing development, leaving the rest as open space or parklands.

Anticipatory plans for the development of the property are for the construction of single family homes that would be sold at a below-market rates.

At a discussion of the project last month, board members offered strong support for allowing the development of three houses per acre, as was recommended by the town’s affordable housing advisory committee.

“Obviously, the more units you put on a property, the more you really work to address the problems that we have — the crisis issue that we have,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. “With so few properties left and the difficulty of acquiring them for this purpose, I know that some other board members had expressed an interest in increasing the density.”

The homes would need to be set back from the highway and have vegetated buffers along the boundaries with other neighboring properties, too, planning officials said, although where on the sloping property the homes would be developed, and where the parklands or open space would go, remains to be decided.

Neighbors of the property to the north have asked that the town cluster the future developments toward the front of the property, away from their homes, and put open space at the rear, even though there is already a large open space reserve between the existing homes and the town-owned land.

Board members ordered that an engineer be hired to begin drafting a possible layout plan, calculating the necessary area of roads and utilities for developing the property to get a clearer picture of how many houses could be built.

“This project needs to be fast-tracked — we need to move quickly on this,” Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said during an October 12 discussion. “We all know that we’ve got a dire need for affordable housing. This will go a long way toward helping local residents.”