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I Don't Know About You, But...

The following are the comments I offered to the record at the Thursday, March 3, 2022 East Hampton Town Board Meeting on two public hearings related to development of affordable community housing in the following matters:

1. Local law to amend the Use District (zoning) map to provide for a change in the Use District Classification for certain lands as shown on the accompanying map, and as more fully described below: SCTM 0300-133.00-01.00-010.000 and 0300-133.00-01.00-011.001 Location: 776, 780 Route 114, Wainscott Current Owner: Town of East Hampton Acreage: 6.5 +/- acres Present Zoning Classification: A2 Residence New Zoning Classification: A2 Residence/Affordable Housing Overlay District SCTM 0300-133.00-01.00-009.000 Location: 782 Route 114, Wainscott Current Owner: The Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, Inc. Acreage: 2.0 +/-acres Present Zoning Classification: A2 Residence New Zoning Classification: A2 Residence/Affordable Housing Overlay District

2. WHEREAS, the Town Board is considering the amendment of the Town Code to provide for an increase in the number of single family dwellings which can be constructed upon a parcel as part of an affordable housing development under 255-5-50 of the Town Code, to increase the number of units from one per 20,000 square feet, to four (4) units per acre;

Good afternoon, Town Board:

Today I’d like to speak in support of both pending affordable housing related code amendments: to add an affordable housing overlay on the parcels 776, 780 and 782 Route 114, and to increase the allowable number of single-family dwellings permitted per acre within an AHO.

To begin my comments, I would like to thank the Town Board and all the members of the other boards, departments and committees who have been working to deliver affordable housing solutions. And also, Town Board, I want to recognize your 2022 “all hands on housing,” initiative, making this work a top priority for all Councilpeople.

In my comments today, I address not only Board members, but I also want to speak to my fellow East Hampton citizens who might be in opposition to or have concerns about what these changes might mean for density or scale of development and impact on neighborhood character. As such, I’d like to put these proposed zoning changes in the perspective of what is already permitted by our town zoning code regarding single family residential development. Warning: there’s math ahead…

This proposed change to 255-5-50 will allow for four affordable single-family residence units per acre vs. the current limit of one per 20,000 square feet of land.

First, just to remind everyone: one acre is 43,460 sq feet, so this amendment is basically doubling the number of potential units per acre.

Affordable housing units tend to range between 1- 3 bedrooms and 700-1,100 sq feet. So, let’s estimate an affordable standalone single-family residence might be 2-3 bedrooms and perhaps 1,200-1,500 sq feet, so four units together might add up to as much as 6,000 sq feet of living space and a total of 10-12 bedrooms on an acre. Indeed, that amount of structure will also come with a modest amount of parking, and decking or patios, and perhaps some storage area and common areas.

It's important to note that our affordable housing developments are closely reviewed and planned and highly structured; affordable housing development is generally “Green,” it is energy efficient, it constrains the amount of impervious surface, it limits accessory structures, and focuses on native revegetation and rain gardens that curtail use of chemicals and irrigation.

Now, let’s compare all that to what our current zoning code allows for “regular” single-family residential development:

Under Chapter 255, one acre, (if there are no encumbrances such as wetlands or requiring a natural resources special permit), will allow a house with above-ground gross floor area (GFA) just shy of 6,000 sq feet. But in addition, we generally find below-grade habitable space adding another 2,000 or more sq feet of usable living space. So that gets you into the range of an 8000+ sq foot house. These days, that translates into 6-8 bedrooms and 8-11 bathrooms in one house.

But the intensity of the scale and scope of development on an acre in East Hampton usually doesn’t end there anymore. Because our existing zoning code allows total lot coverage percentages of 35% or 40%, in addition to the space the house takes up, that might leave another 10,000-15,000 sq feet of area upon which to construct a lot more stuff, which these days nearly always includes a big pool, a pool house, a multi-car garage, parking area, sheds, patios and decks and a lot of fencing and gates. Plus, many of these one-acre parcels are landscaped with meaningful swaths of water- and chemical-guzzling sod, ornamental plantings and monotonous rows of “green giants.”

As an example, see current real estate listings for examples of new construction

Drilling down more specifically to what otherwise could happen on 776 and 780 Rt 114: These A2 zoned lots are roughly 3.3 acres each. Again, looking at existing code, each of these two parcels could maximally be developed with a house approaching 15,000 sq ft of above ground GFA (or perhaps total 20,000 with below ground livable space) and total lot coverage of 50,000 sq feet on which to stuff the oversized house, and all those accessory structures plus a tennis courts, basketball courts etc.

All Calculations based on Town Code Ch 255-11-10 ../Desktop/Residential Dimensional Table.pdf

These numbers I am referencing here are not just pie-in-the-sky hypotheticals. They reflect what’s really been going on over the last 3- 5 years. These luxury “maxed out” builds on one-third, one-half, 1,2 and 3 acres are happening all the time, all around us, in every hamlet, and in most of our neighborhoods.

All of that space, mass and scale--all those materials and energy and water consumed – all that effluent discharged -- for just one house for just one owner/one family, in most cases a second or third home, that might be used only 4 months or 40 weekends a year. And when they are used, the density and intensity of use from visitors, guests, renters and events can be quite significant. All in, many of these supersized developments are pretty crushing to our rural and neighborhood character, view sheds, ecosystems, open space, and quality of life.

Even when housing prices next decline cyclically – if the bubble bursts -- this new “monoculture” of oversized houses will always and forever remain beyond the grasp of anyone but the most wealthy.

So, I don’t know about you…but I’d much rather have land use that is productive. I’d much rather protect housing that remains within reach of our full-time residents -- teachers, entrepreneurs, town employees, first responders, workers, artists, young people -- vs. having another couple luxury compounds. We can have all our land development going towards intermittent and nonproductive use to satisfy the wants and whims of a few, or we can carve out at least a modest proportion of our land to be used in a highly productive way, for the needs and benefits of many.

But enough about my preference. To wrap up, what is on the table here today with these two resolutions is not really a matter of preference,—it’s a necessity…it is a most critical imperative.

Speculative developers are gorging on what is left of our undeveloped land. Mr. Supervisor can share the statistic again with us of how close we are to “fully built out.”

Every week, existing modest-sized homes on modest-sized lots, that might otherwise remain in our housing stock and represent the potential for reasonably priced community housing or “starter” homes, meet up with the wrecking ball – gone in a matter hours.

If you check real estate listings (per Zillow) today, you will see that out of the 268 homes for sale across East Hampton, (excluding resort-related condos) there are only 8 houses for sale priced below $1 mil, and the majority of them exceed $900,000.

In closing, it is estimated that in the short term, we have pressing need for at least another 300 units of affordable housing of one form or another. Back in 1985, it was estimated we’d need 2,000 affordable housing units to meet needs of the Comprehensive Plan for the years ahead. I can only imagine 3 ½ decades later, what the affordable housing deficit is today given the changes in our housing stock and the growth of our population and economy.

So let’s go…

I thank you for putting these two proposed amendments on the table and for your consideration of my comments.


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