East Hampton Press, March 12, 2008
Housing Proposal Would Be First Of Its Kind Here
By Andrew Bielak
Private 'affordable' plan is in the works
If all goes according to plan for Budd Webb, he might become the first private developer to build affordable housing in East Hampton Town.
Mr. Webb, an East Hampton contractor who owns a 8.95-acre parcel at the corner of Middle Highway and Oak View Highway, asked the Town Planning Board last Wednesday for a special permit to build 57 detached cottages as workforce housing on the site under the Town Code's affordable housing provisions.
Planning Board members expressed concerns about keeping the units affordable in the future, and Town Assistant Planning Director JoAnne Pahwul said that Mr. Webb would have to reduce the density of his plan, combining units into multi-family dwellings in order to leave more open space. She also said he would have to add almost double the 68 parking spaces he offered in his initial plan.
But acknowledging the demand for affordable housing in East Hampton, Planing Board Chairwoman Sylvia Overby said that the "board is pretty unanimous that the project is needed in this town. It's exciting to see it happen."
Laurie Wiltshire of the Wainscott company Land Planning Services, representing Mr. Webb, said that he was hoping to build one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. He would sell the units to their occupants, she said, but sell the land under them to the county or town, which could retain it and keep the units affordable.
The parcel is located in the town's A3 Residence-Affordable Housing Overlay District, an area designated by the town as suitable for affordable housing - a fact that Ms. Wiltshire said had influenced Mr. Webb's decision to propose an affordable project.
"It's either make use of it as zoned, or otherwise it's a three-house subdivision process," said Ms. Wiltshire. "I think he would like to give back to the community and since zoning designates this use, he would like to take advantage of it."
The property is mostly covered by woods, and has no structures on it other than a 192-square-foot shed and some chicken coops.
Since 1980, more than 400 affordable housing units have been built through municipal efforts. But only two private developers have proposed affordable housing, according to town housing director Tom Ruhle. He said both eventually dropped their proposals due to opposition from nearby homeowners.
About 20 years ago, Mr. Ruhle said, Frank Bistrian proposed affordable single-family homes on Spring Close Highway in Amagansett. Around 15 years ago, builder Ron Whalen offered a proposal to convert Montauk Community Playhouse into rental apartments.
Much of the opposition, Mr. Ruhle said, involved fear of low-income people moving into the neighborhood.
"I could see a situation where a private developer or investor says 'OK, I can get battered around for a while or make more money... I'll take more money and less aggravation,'" Mr. Ruhle said.
Mr. Webb was away this week and could not be reached for comment, but Ms. Wiltshire said in a phone interview on Monday that her client "doesn't fear a big onslaught of opposition."
"Any project can face opposition, it doesn't matter what you submit," she said, adding that Mr. Webb is a reputable contractor and is familiar with many people in the area of the proposed development. Neighbors have "known all along" that they are abutting land that has been designated by the town as a good site for affordable housing, she added.
She acknowledged that some people stigmatize proposals labeled as "affordable" because they assume it will include "Section 8 Housing" built for people out of work. She called Mr. Webb's project "work force" housing instead. (Section 8 refers to a federal HUD [Housing and Urban Development] classification.)
Although Mr. Webb may be the first to build affordable units independently of the town, he is not the only one looking to do so. The Windmill Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit group that manages the two Windmill seniors housing units in East Hampton, received a $5.8-million grant from the HUD in November to build affordable apartments on land belonging to St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Amagansett. No proposal has been submitted to the Planning Board.
Before he can move forward, Mr. Webb has to make some changes to the design of his project, according to what planners told him last week.
Although his original plan called for 57 separate units, each with about 800 square feet of gross floor area, Ms. Pahwul said on Wednesday that the configuration on the units as proposed exceed permitted lot coverage.
According to Ms. Pahwul, Mr. Webb would be allowed 25,499 square feet of coverage if single-family units were proposed - giving him an average footprint of 447 square feet per unit for 57 units. But if he proposed two more dwelling units per building, she said, Mr. Webb would be allowed to increase his lot coverage to 77,972 square feet under the town code, allowing him an average footprint size for each unit of 1,368 aquare feet.
The original plan did not provide adequate parking as required by the twon code, Ms. Pahwul noted in her review of the proposal. While the Town Code requires two parking spaces per unit for both multi-family and single-family dwellings, of 114 spaces for 57 units, Mr. Webb's original plan called for only 68 parking spaces.
During her discussion of the project, Ms. Pahwul presented a model of a manor house, which had been previously designed by architect Amado Ortiz, as an example of an alternative design for the homes. Although manor houses look similar to large homes from the outside, they can include as many as four separate apartments.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr. Webb said that he was open to the suggestions and added that he was willing to build a mix of single-unit dwellings and some multi-family dwellings on the property.
"It's really up to you guys, I think, if you can improve it," he said.
Amado Ortiz, an architect who chairs the town's Community Housing Opportunity Fund Advisory Committee, has offered to help with the designs.
During the meeting, he showed some sketches of manor houses used by his committee to encourage the town or private developers to consider their designs in building affordable units.
Calling himself an "afordable housing advocate," Mr. Ortiz described Mr. Webb's proposal as a "historic moment" and said that he wanted to encourage the town to consider the plan. "In my opinion, it's the last hope" for allowing working people to live in East Hampton, he said. "I hate to overdramatize it, but that's really how I look at it."
Ms. Overby said that the town would possibly need to change the code to prevent homeowners from reselling the land at market value.
"My most serious concern is that affordable houses remain affordable," agreed Planning Board member Eileen Catalano, adding that lawyers for the town and applicant should make an "iron-clad' position on how the units would remain affordable.
But if the land underneath the units was sold to East Hampton, the town would have the ability to keep the units affordable, according to Mr. Ruhle. Ms. Wiltshire also said that Mr. Webb might seek project funding from groups such as the Long Island Workforce Housing Partnership and the Suffolk County Workforce Housing Program, which she said would also hold him to strict standards in making the units affordable.