After months of tinkering with a very challenging project, the Sag Harbor Village Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to set a public hearing on proposed changes to the village code that will allow for affordable housing development in the village. Ed Haye and Bob Plumb introduced the legislation.
This is “one of the more important things we’ve undertaken this year,” said Mayor James Larocca before Mr. Haye gave an overview of the code changes.
In the residential districts of the village, zoned R-20, the new law will permit apartments within principal and accessory structures, and will make it easier to create those apartments with a streamlined review process. No more than one accessory apartment would be allowed on an R-20 parcel, and Mr. Haye noted new dimensional guidelines for them. They could have a maximum of two bedrooms and a gross floor area of no more than 50 percent of the primary residence’s.
Unique to the R-20 district is a rule permitting apartments to be rented to family members. In the office and village business districts, affordable units could be rented only to those who meet the income eligibility criteria. The maximum income allowed would be 130 percent of the average median income for Suffolk County, which Mr. Plumb said was around $130,000 per year. Placement priority would be granted to those who work in the village, for example with the ambulance corps or the fire and police departments.
In the village business and office districts, the proposed code would allow for three-story, mixed-use apartment buildings where 75 percent of the units would be affordable. In these buildings, the first floor would be for retail and office uses; the second and third stories for apartments.
A third code change would create an affordable housing administration, which would keep an inventory of units and monitor the rentals. To avoid seasonal rentals, the apartment would have to be the occupant’s primary residence, on one-year leases. Should a resident start earning more money — “20 percent or more over the eligible income level — “ and someone is on the waiting list for an apartment, the resident could finish out the lease and another unit would be offered to them. However, if another unit were unavailable, they could rent for only one more year and could not renew the lease after that.
Many incentives to create affordable housing “will come down the road,” Mr. Haye said, under state legislation to be proposed by Assemblyman Fred Thiele later this year. One potential incentive would limit, or prevent, a homeowner’s tax assessment from increasing if affordable housing is offered on the property.
How would income gained from rentals be taxed, someone in the audience asked. “You’re trying to do something good,” he said, “by creating affordable housing, but then you get hit with a higher income tax?” One solution, he said, would be for the tenant to pay the village, and for that money to be put toward the homeowner’s property tax.
He also asked about lot coverage rules, and if they would be relaxed to allow homeowners to add accessory buildings.
Mr. Haye said those were the incentives that Mr. Thiele will be working on when he drafts the state legislation.
Someone else wondered if low-income housing might be offered in the proposed new emergency services building.
To combine housing with an emergency services building is a bad idea, said Deputy Mayor Tom Gardella. When an alarm goes off, he said, there’s “a lot of moving parts” around. However, he said, the village might consider putting a new building in the area where ambulances are now parked and setting it aside for affordable housing.
Others in the audience questioned the 130-percent income level. Rob Calvert worried it would basically eliminate rentals for low and moderate-income people. He said it was important to establish target rents for people who make less than 130 percent of the median income level in the county; otherwise the rents in the buildings would be set only at the highest level.
Mr. Haye said he hoped the state incentives to be offered wouldn’t be “one size fits all.” The benefits can scale up with a lower rental price, he said. “We don’t want everyone to be renting at the 130-percent level.”
“Thank you so much for this good-faith effort,” Michael Daly told the board. While the 130-percent number gave some people comfort, — “Oh, good, we’re not going to be making housing for poor people” — it was important to think of the people who may be at 50 percent of the average median income, and the legislation needs to serve those people as well, he said.
A local architect, Anthony Vermandois, took issue with another part of the proposed code changes. “You’re going to have someone who’s developing their property, but they have only 5-percent lot coverage to work with,” he said. “If they must choose between a swimming pool and an affordable housing accessory building, they’ll choose the swimming pool.”
Mayor Larocca said the board was looking at the dimensional issues. It’s possible, he said, that easing the lot-dimension requirements, rather than offering financial incentives, could work as well.
All these issues and more are sure to come up at the public hearing, scheduled for May. 10.