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More Density for Senior Housing Projects?

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 10:35
Eric Schantz, East Hampton Town’s housing director, said modestly raising density limits could be an easy way to provide more senior citizen housing.
Christopher Gangemi

Recognizing that there is a need for more senior citizen housing in East Hampton Town, Eric Schantz, the town’s director of housing and community development, recommended at Tuesday’s town board work session that the board craft legislation to allow increased density for senior housing complexes, suggesting 12 housing units per acre for senior housing versus the eight that is now allowed.

The board unanimously supported the idea, and then took it a step further.

“I’m supportive, but I would really like to look at it for all of our affordable housing overlay districts,” said Councilman David Lys. “It makes sense for all affordable housing overlay districts to go to 12.”

“I’m not worried about our town being overrun with affordable housing or senior housing,” said Councilman Ian Calder-Piedmonte, the newest member of the board.

Mr. Schantz appreciated the support and enthusiasm of the board and said he would return with another presentation detailing how increased density allotments could affect all affordable housing, but his presentation Tuesday was specifically about senior housing.

According to the 2020 census, East Hampton Town has a higher median age, at 46.8, than Suffolk County (41.7), New York State (39) and the United States (38.2). Mr. Schantz said there is an obvious need in the town. There are now three senior-only housing facilities: Windmill I and Windmill II on Accabonac Road in East Hampton, and the apartments at St. Michael’s in Amagansett. The three together consist of 127 housing units, but there is no vacancy; indeed, there is a 460-person waiting list. “The demand is nearly four times greater than the supply,” he said.

And while the town board has made some recent code changes to try to address the issue of affordable housing in general, including easing the construction of accessory dwelling units, Mr. Schantz said, “We haven’t seen a rush of A.D.U. applications.”

Importantly, he said, the county already allows for the increased density. “Right now, the town restricts beyond what the [county] Health Department allows on a property. [Our] current housing density requirement is based on [old] Health Department regulations . . . our eight-unit-per-acre limitation has been in effect since the 1984 comprehensive plan.” Mirroring the county-wide density regulations would be “a good mechanism to get more senior housing that is needed in the town,” Mr. Schantz said.

He exhaustively ran through problems that increasing the density might cause, with the top two being its effect on water quality and traffic.

But the effect on water quality, he argued, was mostly moot. The Suffolk County Health Department already allows 12 units per acre, and that’s assuming no sewage treatment plants. If a large development is proposed, sewage treatment may be mandated; even a smaller development would be required to use nitrogen-reducing I/A sanitary systems.

The traffic impact too, seemed small. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Mr. Schantz said, “Senior housing units generate only a quarter the amount of traffic of what a single-family residence are expected to generate.” Meanwhile, Windmill I was built 37 years ago, and, on the same road, Windmill II was built 22 years ago. “All that traffic is going onto Accabonac Road in close proximity. I drive past them every day. I have never seen or heard of major issues there that have developed from the volume of traffic.”

If people are worried about the increase in density in general in the town, Mr. Schantz pointed out that “New development of these facilities can only occur in the affordable housing overlay district.” There are only two parcels of vacant land where new senior housing might be considered: at the Amagansett Fire Department, and at 350 Pantigo Road, where the old Stern’s department store was located.

But the fire department land, because it’s eight acres, would bump into the hard townwide cap which has a maximum of 60 units at any one site, so new legislation wouldn’t affect it. The parcel at 350 Pantigo is four acres, so could go from 32 units allowed under current regulations to 48. If the existing three senior housing facilities were redeveloped under the potential legislation, 20 units could be added at Windmill I, 13 at Windmill II, and 20 at St. Michael’s. But other factors might restrict that number. “Maybe we’re looking at 40 if everything falls into place.”

Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said any new projects would still have to be vetted by the planning board. “Community character is a concern, but a lack of places for seniors to live is a problem with our community character too.”

“The idea here isn’t to change the code in a way that’s going to have a gigantic impact on these existing developments,” said Mr. Schantz. “But by letting the existing do a bit more, in aggregate, you could equal the number of housing units that would be in a new development.”

Supervisor Kathee Burke-Gonzalez indicated that she’d like to get more information from Mr. Schantz on how the code change could impact density in other types of housing in the affordable housing overlay district. Mr. Schantz said he would get that information and present it to the board before it moved any legislation to a public hearing.

 

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