In the works for more than three years, a Southampton Town Board proposal sponsored by Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to boost the number of affordable rental apartments in the town drew support, some questions and no opposition at a public hearing on December 20 during the board’s last meeting of 2018.
If passed, the law is expected to add an estimated 79 more units to the 728 accessory rental apartments that were built under the current law in single-family homes over the past 18 years.
Also at the busy meeting, the board set a public hearing on its proposal to prohibit food service establishments from distributing polystyrene food containers and plastic straws for 6 p.m. on January 22 in Town Hall.
The board also agreed: to accept a donation from Michael Bloomberg to help pay for the town’s removal of invasive mile-a-minute weed from town land adjacent to property he owns in Noyac; to hire an acoustic consultant to assess way to limit noise emanating from the town-owned Bridgehampton Community House, where neighbors have complained about loud dance music at night; and retained a law firm for “the investigation and potential litigation” involving the contamination of groundwater in the town, where toxic chemicals have been found in East Quogue and Sagaponack.
After assistant town attorney Kara Bak described the affordable housing legislation in detail, fielded comments and questions from board members, and three speakers from the audience offered support and comment, the board tabled the proposal until its January 8 meeting to consider some details, including what impact adding an apartment to an existing house would have on the property’s assessed valuation.
Saying his organization strongly supported the proposal and that a lack of affordable housing is Long Island-wide issue, Kevin Moran of the Long Island Builders Institute told the board, “The town needs to diversify its options to maintain a healthy economy.”
Walter Oden, former head of the U.S. Small Business Administration on Long Island who is now a developer, also offered support, noting “most workers can’t afford to live here.” He urged the town to consider encouraging modular construction because using structures pre-constructed in factories makes building faster and cheaper.
Retired Deputy State Housing Commissioner Myron Holtz of North Sea raised the issue of providing a tax abatement to home owners who face a higher tax assessment after adding an accessory apartment. Mr. Schneiderman pointed out that only the state could offer tax relief but board members and other officials in attendance — including Diana Wier, the town’s housing and community development director; and Kyle Collins, the town planning administrator — agreed the town assessor should be asked “to speak to it,” as Ms. Weir put. Mr. Holtz urged the board to “reach out to state people” to pass enabling legislation to allow for assessment relief.
The proposal would reduce the minimum lot size on which accessory apartments are currently allowed from a 3/4-acre minimum to a half acre — but only in the Census-designated parts of town with the lowest population density: Bridgehampton, Water Mill, Noyac, North Sea, Tuckahoe, Eastport, Flanders, Northampton and Westhampton.
The law also would impose limits on tenant income and rents for all accessory apartments built after January 1, 2019 to $1,240 for a studio; $1,548 for a one-bedroom unit; and $1,907 for a two-bedroom unit, according to current levels set by the federal Housing and Urban Development. “Low income” under the town code currently is a maximum of $91,000 for a family of four. “Middle income” families, with an income of up to $151,000,” would also qualify. Landlords and tenants must be year-round residents and obtain the usual two-year rental permits required under the town code.
In order to make the proposal “density neutral,” so that it does not increase housing density above current zoning limits, it would call for the town to extinguish a portion of the bank of “development rights” it has acquired through its land preservation programs. The adjustment would be made within the school district where each new rental apartment is located.
According to Planning Administrator Collins, one-quarter of a development right would be extinguished for studio and one-bedroom apartments; half a right would be extinguished for two-bedroom units.