Many Questions, Many Answers on Amagansett Housing

Questions answered, but many persist over housing plan
Following her presentation Monday on the East Hampton Housing Authority's proposed affordable housing complex in Amagansett, Katy Casey, the group's executive director looked on as Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell addressed the large crowd gathered in the American Legion Hall. Morgan McGivern

There was much camera-flashing at the American Legion Hall in Amagansett Monday night during the monthly meeting of the hamlet's citizens advisory committee, at which Katy Casey, executive director of the East Hampton Housing Authority, discussed the authority's controversial plan to build an affordable housing complex at east of the I.G.A.

News 12-TV, Newsday, and other Long Island TV and print media had sent reporters and photographers, perhaps in anticipation of a shouting match or two. If so, they were disappointed.

In a half-hour presentation followed by questions from an attentive audience of about 150, Ms. Casey ran down a list of concerns she said had been mentioned most frequently by callers to her office. The question of just who will live in the 40-unit project was at or near the top of the list.

"The preference will be for East Hampton Town year-rounders, living here or working here full time," she said, "with priority given to fire department volunteers, emergency medical technicians, and veterans." Preferences after that are being "looked at" but are as yet undetermined.

Boys and girls will not be allowed to share a room, nor, for example, would a toddler and a teenager, or a child with a disabled adult, she said. All occupants must be "legal residents or citizens," and "may not own property, anywhere at all." Eight of the 40 units will be set aside for subsidized low-income tenants; the rest will accommodate a mixed-income population.

No waiting list will be drawn up until the project is within a year of opening, at which time there will be two waiting lists, one for residents and another for nonresidents. (The federal Fair Housing Law prohibits excluding nonresidents from applying, but it is lawful to give residents precedence.) Ms. Casey estimated later in the evening that it would be about three years before people start moving in.

A large number of applicants is expected, she said, and "the initial list will be a lottery." After that, "first-come, first-served as apartments become vacant."

The other most frequently asked question received by her office concerned taxes: With an influx of children to the Amagansett School District, how much will taxes go up?

Assuming 36 new students (at the low end, according to a consultant hired by the Amagansett School Board), a property valued at $1 million and assessed at about $6,000 would see an increase of $138 per year, Ms. Casey said. With 72 new students (the consultant's highest estimate), the increase would be $315.

There was only one question about taxes following her talk. "What was the math behind the increase?" someone wanted to know. Ms. Casey referred to the figures presented by the school's consultant at an initial community meeting in March.

Other concerns included traffic, water, and energy consumption. "A good portion of these tenants are already on our roads," Ms. Casey told the crowd, though there was audible moaning later when she said the apartment complex would have two parking lots holding 130 cars. "Away from the road," she said.

The building will occupy 25 percent of its 4.7-acre tract at 531 Montauk Highway, Ms. Casey said. She characterized it as a "pocket neighborhood, like Gansett Green Manor off Amagansett Main Street — not visible from the road, not looming."

It is "transit-oriented," she went on, "meaning it is a walkable community near the train station, the I.G.A. supermarket, and medical services." Among other environmental benefits, she said, it will have Energy Star appliances, "passive solar heating," meaning that "the building follows the sun," and "universal wi-fi," which she said would benefit the children in particular. "Schools are doing away with paper," Ms. Casey said, and students are increasingly doing homework online.

The complex, which is in a zoning district that permits limited business, will include four small (600-square-foot) professional offices — for doctors, lawyers, accountants and the like — but no retail (florists and antiques shops are excepted), with studio apartments above. "The idea is, a small startup can rent the suite, and the business owner or an employee can live in the apartment," Ms. Casey explained. No satellites, or branch offices, would be eligible.

Toby Ligorner, a member of the advisory committee, wondered why commercial offices were necessary. "We have enough empty commercial property right now," she said, to applause.

Someone else asked whether an unmarried couple would have a problem getting in. "Their legal marital status or gender is not an issue," Ms. Casey answered. "With children, though, we have more oversight." Asked if applicants might lie with impunity about their income, she said that "we annually check people's tax returns and bank statements, and we check the apartments. And we know what to look for." The complex will have a resident manager, she said.

"The project is not so large that we wouldn't notice if somebody is gone for a month," for example. "If someone is sending all their money overseas, would I catch it? Perhaps not, frankly. But if someone is living above their income, we can catch it."

Reg Cornelia, who lives in Springs and heads the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, asked whether "the lists of people are open to public record?" No, said Ms. Casey, they are "confidential. But we do report date of birth, Social Security numbers, and other documentation" to the state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Asked if the playground would be public, Ms. Casey said it would. "We love it when the kids come. It's an inclusive, non-gated community with playground rules. If a child invited the whole class for a birthday party, that's fine." Children under 12, however, must be supervised by an adult, she said.

"Will the complex be affordable in perpetuity?"

"Yes."

"Will it be handicapped-accessible?"

"Yes."

One man wanted to know if residents of the Amagansett School District could hold a referendum on the plan. East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell rose to answer that one. No, he said; if a referendum were to be held it would have to involve the entire town.

Alexander (Sas) Peters of Amagansett Springs Aquifer Protection said there should be "a real water study and a real traffic study" before construction begins. Anna Bernasek of Amagansett, who originated a petition on change.org opposing the complex, also requested a traffic study, as well as an environmental impact study. Ms. Casey noted that those topics would be addressed when the project comes before the planning board, which will hold a public hearing on it as part of its review.

"We're paving paradise," complained another resident of the hamlet. "Car washes, bowling alleys, 7-Elevens. This is subsidized housing stuffed in our throat."

(At the mention of a 7-Eleven, which has been proposed for an empty storefront just west of the Housing Authority property, a woman in the audience remarked loudly that "having a 7-Eleven there is just absurd."

"No, it's a good thing," said the man sitting next to her, adding sarcastically, "You don't have to go to the East Hampton train station to pick up your labor.")

Mr. Cantwell, who has lived all his life in Amagansett, got up to speak again. When he was a child attending the Amagansett School, he said, the Smith Meal fish factory was still in business on Promised Land and many men came north to work there, bringing their families with them. The children, he said, often came to class in tatters, sometimes without shoes in the winter, but they were welcomed and treated no differently by their teachers and classmates.

On Tuesday morning, the supervisor told his town board colleagues that he was "hoping, as this housing proposal moves forward, that it will gain more and more community acceptance."