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Affordable Housing on East Hampton School Property?

Thu, 07/13/2023 - 10:00
Kirby Marcantonio, a 1970 graduate of East Hampton High School and a local business owner, pitched an idea Tuesday to build houses on the high school campus for teachers and other school employees.
Christine Sampson

An East Hampton High School alumnus and local business owner has proposed building 20 townhouse-style residential units on the north end of the school’s campus, as part of a larger plan to address the critical shortage of affordable housing in town.

Kirby Marcantonio, who owns the Montauk Life and Hampton Life magazines and has a background in real estate and land planning, approached the East Hampton School Board on Tuesday to consider using a vacant acre of land off Cedar Street for the purpose.

With some 25 percent of school staff commuting an hour or more each day, the district would stand to benefit from a plan to house its employees. “You have a need, and you have land,” Mr. Marcantonio said.

He proposes that the district build a cluster of four one-bedroom units, eight two-bedroom units, and eight three-bedroom units, on 13,000 square feet. A modern, low-nitrogen septic system would take up another 5,000 square feet, and there would still be room for parking and open recreational space. The units would be priced between $375,000 and $575,000, “well below the prevailing rate of any housing in this area,” Mr. Marcantonio said.

Calling it a housing model “based on employer investment,” he told the board that he and his associates are also proposing a similar development across town, on five acres off Daniel’s Hole Road. “The project itself will be privately built with no public subsidies or grants. . . . They will be covenanted to that use only. No second homes, no Airbnb, no subletting allowed,” he said.

He has been discussing the idea with School District Superintendent Adam Fine for several months, he added. Mr. Fine said Tuesday that he’d thought it was time that Mr. Marcantonio and Christopher Kelley, an attorney with the Twomey Latham firm, bring their proposal to the school board.

“If you were to approve this offer, we would handle all aspects of the project,” Mr. Marcantonio pledged. “We would work with the town and all allied agencies to secure permits. We would oversee construction, obtain New York State approval of the offering plan, [and] sell the units to any other employers you are willing to sell to. Leaving aside the dire need for this kind of housing, given you are a school district we feel strongly that your status will make overall approvals easier than with privately owned land. And, given the end users will be teachers, health care workers, even town employees, we feel confident public sentiment for this project will be overwhelming.”

School board members generally agreed with Mr. Marcantonio that the housing shortage here has reached crisis level; the district had held a forum last year on that topic and established a housing committee tasked with finding solutions. However, some board members expressed concern on Tuesday over the part of Mr. Marcantonio’s proposal that would open the opportunity to buy in, to other sectors of the working community, including municipal employees and health professionals not employed by the school district.

“I do not want to see the school become a landlord for anyone but school employees if we go down this road,” said Christina DeSanti, the school board’s vice president. She also pointed out that such a project may need voter approval and would definitely need a green light from the State Education Department.

John Ryan Sr., a board member, asked Mr. Marcantonio how the developers would recoup their investment. “There’s about a 10-percent profit in this for us if we can pull it off,” he replied.

“The time has come to stop talking and do something before there isn’t anything left to do,” Mr. Marcantonio concluded. “Affordable housing is a conundrum. . . . They let that boat get so far offshore you can barely see the smokestack at this point. This is one that might be grabbed, but not if we let the usual political process play out. Politicians sometimes are afraid of doing things that someone might not like.”

The school board agreed to invite Mr. Marcantonio and Mr. Kelley to the next meeting of the board’s housing committee for further discussion.


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