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Modest Is Maxim for Town's Affordable Project on Pantigo

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 11:32
Five acres of the Pantigo Road property, which is mostly uncleared, would be preserved as a woodland, and would link up to the long-proposed South Fork Bikeway.

The East Hampton Town Planning Board looked favorably on the town’s proposed 16-unit affordable housing development at 395 Pantigo Road at its meeting last week.

If approved, it would be the third affordable housing project in the works in the town. A project on Three Mile Harbor Road will yield 50 affordable apartments by 2024, and 50 rental homes are slated for land on Route 114, across from the Sag Harbor Golf Course in the Wainscott School District. The 12-acre development on Pantigo is in the East Hampton School District, and the town has hopes the houses there will remain affordable well into the future.

The Pantigo Road property, which is mostly uncleared, last contained a single residence that was condemned in 2020, before the land was purchased by the town with a mixture of its general fund and community preservation funds. In March of 2022, the parcel was added to the town’s Affordable Housing Overlay district, which allows for four affordable houses per acre.

Eric Schantz, the town’s assistant planning director, explained to the board on Jan. 25 that building lots were left intentionally small — from a quarter to a third of an acre — to limit the size of structures that could be built in order to maintain future affordability. The town board agreed on capping the gross floor area of each residence to 10 percent of the building lot area, meaning houses would be roughly 1,500 square feet each. The smallest would be 1,082 square feet.

Accessory structures would be capped at 600 square feet but could not be used as separate apartments. No pools or playing courts will be permitted.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board’s liaison to the Housing and Community Development Department, said in a phone call that the goal was to keep the homes affordable in perpetuity, “so we have to make sure improvements stay in line with affordability.”

She said houses in Whalebone Woods, an affordable housing development in East Hampton that the town built in the 1980s, are being resold for over $1 million now. “It’s great but heartbreaking at the same time,” she said.

“The intent is you’re not creating mini-real estate moguls,” said Samuel Kramer, the board chairman.

The land that each house is on would be leased for 99 years from the town, not owned by those who purchase the homes.

“We find when the property owner is the buyer, we lose control of property and lose affordability completely,” said Francis Bock, the housing tech for the town. He told the board the ownership model was based on Green Hollow, the last affordable housing subdivision, which was built by the town in 2008.

“We allow them to do improvements on those homes with permission, and when we go to repurchase, they will get full recovery of those improvements,” he said.

Ian Calder-Piedmonte, a board member, said he wished there were a way to “conserve affordability” while also allowing people to own the land.

The layout of the development is simple, with a single road leading north from Pantigo Road, ending in a cul-de-sac, with houses along the road on either side.

Five acres would be preserved as a woodland, and would link up to the long-proposed South Fork Bikeway. In addition, a 100-foot uncleared buffer would separate the first houses from Pantigo Road, and a 50-foot buffer would remain along the western edge of the property.

“The more we can leave the woods, the better,” Randy Parsons, a planning board member, said at the Jan. 25 meeting. “Less clearing, less fertilizer, less irrigation, less pesticide, and we have a species in there, the long-eared bat.”

“It was just declared endangered a month ago,” Mr. Schantz said.

A variance from the Suffolk County Health Department might be required due to the density on the small lots. However, Mr. Schantz indicated the “allowable sanitary flow” on the preserved five acres could be transferred to the buildable lots.

The town completed an archaeological review of the property last spring.

“This area, the Pantigo hill area, is a known Montaukett burial ground; however, that did not occur on this property,” said Mr. Schantz. He added that no historic, or prehistoric, artifacts had been found.

According to the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Fund Project Plan, published in October, “Of the Town’s 21,655 housing units, only 617, roughly 3 percent, are confirmed as affordable.”

“I think it’s a very exciting time. We’re moving forward with a much-needed affordable housing project,” Linda Norris, the town’s assistant director of housing, said at the meeting. Ms. Norris was not available for further comment.

Mr. Parsons advocated for the planning board to reach out to the town’s architectural review board. “The better they [the houses] look, the more receptive the public will be to them,” he said. “Nantucket and the vineyard have done really well with building these little saltboxes in their affordable housing zone that look like they’ve been there for 200 years,” he said.

He also hoped the town would consider minimizing the amount of asphalt used in the road construction, and do as much as possible to limit its width, using so-called “lane specs.”

“It’s an aesthetic, and it’s cheaper,” he said.

“I like the lane code stuff,” agreed Ed Krug, a planning board member.

“We’re not talking about the L.I.E. versus a dirt road,” said Mr. Schantz. He said the amount of asphalt used would be determined by what’s required, and fire safety regulations.

“We’ll have as little asphalt and width as possible,” he said.

"It's a milestone to get to this portion of the project," said East Hampton Town Councilman David Lys. "I'm happy the hard work of the internal subcommittee put together a strong application. The planning board's comments are fair and reasonable and we look forward to getting shovels in the ground and keys in the doors," he said.

While he acknowledged many departments would need to work together, he thought the beginning of summer would be a "nice target date" for construction to begin on the access road to the development.

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