Land use issues dominated the Southold Town Board’s public hearing agenda last night.
A public hearing on a proposed affordable housing code drew one speaker, a Cutchogue woman who expressed strong concerns about allowing increased housing densities in the hope of providing affordable housing.
“Southold is the end of the line on Long Island, in terms of what’s still rural,” Ellen Paterno said. She described how her hometown of Islip was transformed from a quiet small village when she was a child to a busy suburban landscape thanks to high-density housing and commercial development.
Supervisor Scott Russell explained that the proposed code creates an overlay zone that can be placed on a parcel that meets strict requirements, and only after a public hearing.
Paterno asked how many parcels could be made subject to the overlay zone.
Councilman Jim Dinizio, pointing to a map showing parcels already preserved and parcels the town would like to preserve, said there’s no possibility of the overlay zone ever being placed on two-thirds of the parcels in Southold.
“This legislation is for our workers, our teachers, our police officers, our firefighters,” Dinizio said. “These are the people who can’t find adequate affordable housing in our community.”
Paterno questioned how the town ensures that the units are rented to residents who need them. Councilwoman Jill Doherty suggested Paterno make an appointment with Denis Noncarrow so he can explain how the town’s affordable housing program works.
The board closed the hearing but did not act on the resolution, instead tabling it for further discussion at a later date.
The board also held two public hearings related to the land preservation. One was a hearing on the adoption of a July 2016 update to the community preservation project plan. The second was a hearing on the proposed extension of the Community Preservation Fund 2-percent transfer tax from 2030 to 2050 and the allowed expenditure of up to 20 percent of the town’s CPF annual revenues on certain water quality improvement projects.
The State Legislature adopted legislation authorizing the extension and water quality projects expenditures, but each of the five East End towns must pass local laws to effect the amendments. The legislation is subject to a mandatory referendum in November.
Southold land preservation coordinator Melissa Spiro discussed the history of the Community Preservation Plan, the prioritization of parcels for acquisition and preservation, and the “very positive” impact the Community Preservation Fund has had on the East End in general and Southold in particular. The CPF has preserved 9,000 acres of land, she said.
Southold has generated more than $78 million in CPF 2-percent transfer tax revenues, with which the town has been able to leverage $21.6 million in federal, state and county funds, as well as private grants and donation
“We’re not done,” Spiro said
“This town board, prior baords and residents of the town have consistently supported land preservation. I support this and I hope the Town Board does, too.”
Robert Dunn of Peconic said he’s not sure about allowing any of the CPF funds to be diverted from land preservation to water quality projects.
“This program has been successful. To now in a way cannibalize it for something else doesn’t seem to make sense to me,” Dunn said.
The supervisor said he shares that concern and would prefer water quality projects to have their own source of funding.
Bob DeLuca of Group for the East End said his organization supports the measure. “We need money for water quality and we need more money for land preservation,” he said.
“But we can’t wait for something else to happen.”
DeLuca commended Spiro for her work over the years. “This is not easy work to do and she has done it diligently and with great eloquence.” He said the success of Southold’s program is in no small way directly attributable to her efforts.
“On the issue of water quality, this is a global problem, a national problem, and on the local level this is what beginning to addreess this looks like,” said Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy.
Holly Sanford of Peconic Land Trust said the CPF extension will “provide the towns with the capital necessary to not only protect the land that defines our community but also to invest in measures and technology to restore and protect our water quality.”
“It will benefit our communities for generations to come,” Sanford said.
The board tabled both resolutions to allow time for members to digest the testimony given.