Southampton Town Board Adopts Affordable Apartment Law

Lynn Arthur of the Southampton Town Sustainability Committee explained the proposal for a CCA or Community Choice Aggregation Energy Program at the Town Board meeting in Hampton Bays on Tuesday, January 22. Peter Boody photo

Aiming to increase the number of affordable apartments available in the less densely populated parts of the town, the Southampton Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow homeowners with lots as small as half an acre — but only in “Census-designated” areas with populations of less than 500 people per square mile — to build accessory apartments in their single-family homes provided they limit rents to federal standards for low-moderate and middle income tenants, who must prove their incomes qualify for the housing.

The qualifying areas of town are Bridgehampton, Water Mill, Noyac, North Sea, Tuckahoe, Eastport, Flanders, Northampton and Westhampton.

The vote took place during a marathon four-hour meeting of the Town Board at the Hampton Bays Senior Center at which the board also conducted a public hearing on its proposal to ban the use of plastic straws and polystyrene containers at food-service establishments to reduce pollution. Thirteen people spoke in favor of the proposed ban and no one spoke against it.

The board also conducted a hearing on its proposal to establish the legislative framework for establishing a municipal “CCA” or Community Choice Aggregation Energy Program under which a town-designated agency could act as a broker to buy electricity from suppliers other than PSEG including those relying on renewable sources. No one spoke against that proposal although one speaker worried about cost.

During the “public comment” period of the agenda, several speakers from Hampton Bays urged the board to move forward with a proposal to use Community Development Funds (CPF) to buy and demolish the blighted 22-unit Bel-Aire Cove Motel in Hampton Bays, which is supported by Councilwoman Christine Scalera, the board’s only Republican member.

Ms. Scalera backed the proposal as an alternative to Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s plan to conduct an urban renewal project with the property, acquiring it for redevelopment for $1,060,000 and selling it as a kind of economic incubator for the once vibrant small-motel tourist economy of Hampton Bays.

Despite all the voices Tuesday in favor of Ms. Scalera’s plan — and at a public hearing in October — no board member seconded Ms. Scalera’s motion to proceed with an initial step, modifying the town’s CPF plan to include the small property, which is on a canal connected to Shinnecock Bay at 20 Shinnecock Road. The board, meanwhile, tabled the urban renewal proposal as the town Planning Department continues to finalize it.

Accessory Apartment Law

Until the board’s vote on Tuesday, the town code has allowed accessory apartments without rent restrictions anywhere in town on lots at least three-quarters of an acre in size. The newly adopted amendment requires proof that any such apartments built after January 1, 2019, wherever they are in town, meet federal HUD standards for affordability, no matter what size lot they are on.

To prevent population density from rising above what’s projected under current zoning standards, the amendment requires the town to extinguish development rights it has banked from preserved land in the same school district for each accessory apartment at a rate that depends on the number of bedrooms.

“I don’t think this is going to solve the affordable housing problem,” commented Supervisor Schneiderman. “I think it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s significant to the individuals” who will benefit “and the businesspeople who employ them.

The supervisor, who sponsored the proposal, has been working on it with Town Board members, Assistant Town Attorney Kara Bak, the town’s housing director Diana Weir,     the town’s planning director Kyle Collins and staff for at least three years. Councilwoman Scalera suggested the density limit and development-rights requirement during Town Board work sessions last fall.

There was no opposition and several speakers in support when the Town Board held a public hearing on the proposal on December 20 and no one spoke about the proposal before the vote Tuesday during the board’s “public comment” period.

After the vote, Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said the amendment would help the town “in many ways” by “combating” the effects of a “strong [real estate] market,” which is forcing local people to find cheaper housing to the west and commute to their jobs or move away entirely. He said the new law shows “there is a way for young people to stay in the area and for” middle-class “people who own a home here to [continue to] live here” by augmenting their income.

Supervisor Schneiderman commented that “market forces” tend to put the town’s least expensive housing in the densely populated Hampton Bays and East Quogue areas. The new law is intended to prevent overcrowding there and reduce traffic congestion by giving commuters options for living locally.

“We’ve been working on this for about three years trying to get it right and I think we have arrived,” he said.

Councilwoman Scalera told the supervisor she appreciated the board’s willingness to address her concerns about population density.

After noting the many changes the board had made to the proposal as it reviewed it at work sessions, Councilman John Bouvier said, “Thank you, supervisor, for bringing this forward. I think it’s good legislation.

Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said it was “great we thought out of the box” to develop the legislation. “Hopefully it’s going to help.”

Public Hearings

Thirteen speakers called on the Town Board on Tuesday to adopt its proposed ban on plastic straws and polystyrene packaging at food-service establishments. The board recessed the hearing to its 1 p.m., Thursday, February 12 meeting in Town Hall.

Aaron Virgin, vice president of the Group for the East End, said the proposal was “an investment in the planet, our children and future generations.”

“Every minute, one garbage-truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean,” said Councilwoman Lofstad, who is sponsoring the proposal. “We all have to change our behavior. If not, we aren’t going to be here” much longer “and our beautiful bays and oceans and beaches, they’re going to be gone.”

The board also held off on the “Community Choice Aggregation Energy Program” that has been pushed by the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee, whose member Lynn Arthur told the board during the hearing that she has conducted 18 meetings with local citizens to explain the concept and collected 237 signatures in support of it. The board closed the hearing but allowed for written comments for 30 days.

Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee chair Steve Abramson, one of 10 speakers who favored the proposal, said the proposal — which does not commit the town to launching a CCA program — “is just an opportunity to expand our knowledge base and see if something like this can work for us.”