As a long-time resident of Wainscott, Ed Reale felt lucky to be able to send a child to the Wainscott School, a one-room, K-through-third-grade school nestled next to farm fields and the hamlet’s historic cemetery.
Now that the same child is old enough to be looking for a place to live locally, that good luck has run out.
“My younger son had a treasured experience at the Wainscott School,” said Mr. Reale during an East Hampton Town Board hearing on a proposal to purchase about four undeveloped acres owned by the Triune Baptist Church on Route 114, just outside of Sag Harbor, for the development of affordable housing.
“He is now in his late 20s. He and his brother and almost all of their childhood friends cannot afford to live here anymore. So, they did have that wonderful experience, but they can’t afford to live here. So that, to me, is very telling about what all of this is about.”
Mr. Reale is a real estate agent who serves on the board of the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit that owns property adjacent to the church parcel, which the town on Tuesday agreed to purchase for $900,000 as a housing site. He was one of several speakers in favor of the plan, while others expressed concern over the impact the project could have on the neighboring parcels and the school district.
Mr. Reale pledged that the housing trust board of directors would “do whatever we can to work in some sort of joint venture or some other cooperative way” with the town to develop a housing project for the two properties.
The housing trust, established in 2008, has owned its 2.5-acre parcel on Route 114 since 2014 and has drafted plans for an environmentally sustainable affordable housing development on the property, where eight cottages currently stand. It has failed to secure the funding to complete that project.
On Tuesday, prior to the public hearing, Town Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn said the town’s redevelopment of the adjacent church parcel, with on-site sewage treatment, could yield as many as 26 units. Any redevelopment plan, she noted, would require a full environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
David Eagan, president of the Wainscott School Board, was one of just a few speakers urging caution and to consider the hamlet’s school in any decisions it makes.
“The Wainscott School District takes no position on the concept of affordable housing or this board’s policy to build additional town-sponsored or initiated housing projects,” said Mr. Eagan.
“We do, however, take a very strong position on our community’s desire to preserve the historic mission of our school district,” said Mr. Eagan. “That mission is one of individualized instruction in our highly acclaimed K-3 program in our schoolhouse, in an open classroom format that incorporates a highly collaborative and caring environment.”
In 2014, Wainscott School officials were vocal in their opposition to a 48-unit apartment complex proposed for town land off Stephen Hands Path taking issue with the spike in enrollment that could occur in the small district as well as the impact on school taxes. The town backed off its plans in 2015.
Roy Nicholson, a resident who lives near the Route 114 property, objected to a dense housing project in an area that includes two- and five-acre zoning and is in a sensitive water recharge area. He said he had hoped the town’s Community Preservation Fund office would purchase the Triune Baptist Church parcel for preservation.
“Now the town is planning to negate all that is meant to keep the aquifer clean,” he said.
Many, however, encouraged the town to move forward — citing affordable housing as a critical issue for the Town Board to address.
“I support affordable housing, pure and simple,” said Betty Smith. “It is the right and human thing to do.”
“In a world that has become more and more about the haves and the have nots, we have here the opportunity to purchase a property that will benefit our community and the low-income folks who are a part of our town, who work, who raise children,” said J.B. DosSantos, an East Hampton resident and real estate agent.
“It’s undeniable affordable housing is needed in the Town of East Hampton,” said Dave Hillman. “This property provides us with a great location at a very fair price and I strongly support this acquisition and appreciate the consideration of this board.”
The board was unanimous in its decision to move forward with the purchase.
Councilman David Lys commented, “I believe that affordable housing can be designed to serve different needs and generations in the community, be environmentally sensitive and remain within the character of the neighborhood.”