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Dispersed Housing a Better Alternative

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 16:05

Editorial

A proposal to double the number of affordable residences that could be built per acre in certain zones could go a long way toward easing the housing crisis in East Hampton. The town board is considering a revision to existing regulations that would increase the maximum from two to four. But the change could do more than bump up the number of units; it could go a long way toward calming the fears that arise whenever a new affordable housing initiative is brought forward.

Some residents of low-population school districts, as in Amagansett and Wainscott in recent years, have spoken out against adding to the housing stock within their respective areas. This has always seemed to be a hypocritical let-them-eat-cake attitude, since owners in these higher-income hamlets are happy enough to have the town’s working people tend their properties or staff the stores and restaurants, but would rather not live among them. Student populations among the districts on the South Fork vary wildly, and while some parents might want to bar the doors to the children of people with a different economic status from theirs, that exclusionary impulse, in part, has led to what is effectively a two-tier educational system in the lower grades. By potentially being able to disperse up to four-unit developments widely throughout the town, officials could meet these objections head-on.

Fewer-unit construction could offer a way into public-benefit work for architects and builders here, especially those new to the business or not set up to take on large projects. It could also provide a way for nonprofits to join the effort through modest undertakings, as opposed to those with dozens of centralized apartments. Spread more widely, smaller affordable developments could be on sites close to services and transportation options, helping ease traffic on the region’s antiquated roads. Business owners, too, might be able to provide staff housing, if the new rules allowed for that. Building small could also help reach the town’s clean-energy goals. It might also improve the curb-appeal aesthetics of new affordable housing, which is considered an eyesore by many and has been an impediment in the past.

As of now, the town is considering applying the change from two units to four per acre on a pair of relatively large sites, but this might just result in the kind of development density that has drawn opposition in the past. Options that would encourage affordable-home building in far more locations than allowed under current rules should be a key part of the plan. It is a lot easier to say, “Yes, in my backyard” when the size is right.


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