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Mar 4, 2009 12:05 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Two sites possible for workforce housing in Southampton Village

Mar 4, 2009 12:05 PM

Two spots in Southampton Village—one on Hill Street and another on Hampton Road—are being eyed as potential sites for workforce housing.

Southampton Inn owner Dede Gotthelf gave village officials a tour of vacant spaces at her office/commercial complex at 71 Hill Street on Thursday, February 26. She said she is looking into converting the spaces into affordable apartments, although she would need zoning changes and other approvals from the village to do so.

“These could be ready to go for this summer,” Ms. Gotthelf said.

The officials, Village Board members Bonnie Cannon and Paul Robinson and building inspector Christopher Talbot, identified opportunities for as many as nine one-bedroom apartments at 71 Hill Street when they were shown the upper floors of three commercial buildings there.

Both the owner and the officials emphasized that talks are in very preliminary stages and that, ultimately, nothing may come of the plan. Regardless, as they brainstormed and bounced ideas off each other, they were enthusiastic at the prospect of making it happen.

Meanwhile, Joe Roperto of R.K. Development in Southampton is exploring the possibility of scrapping his plans for six condominiums on Hampton Road and instead building a day care center and 12 apartments.

“It’s something that I’m possibly interested in doing,” he said Monday. “I just have to look into it a little more.”

Ms. Cannon, who also chairs the Southampton Town Housing Authority and pushed the Village Board to create a workforce housing trust, said on Monday that there is an urgent need for housing that must be addressed. “I’m tired of waiting,” she said. “Things are passing by, and nothing’s really happening.”

Ms. Cannon added that she has been looking for volunteers to join a workforce housing commission, but so far hasn’t gotten any takers.

“People are very happy to say they are on board when they’re in a closed room,” Ms. Cannon said, expressing her frustration about workforce housing initiatives failing to find traction in the village. “But when they’re out in the open, who’s really on board?”

Mr. Robinson said the Village Board has been trying to address the need for affordable housing for a long time and noted that it adopted a law in 1988 that would allow accessory apartments on owner-occupied houses. The law allows for up to 20 legal accessory apartments, but in more than two decades that followed, the village hasn’t come close to reaching that cap.

“At the most, we have two active units,” Mr. Talbot said.

The building inspector said many code issues may come up before the spaces at 71 Hill Street are habitable, but nothing that can’t be overcome. “We’ll address them as we need to,” he said.

One of the biggest obstacles to the proposal on Hill Street, Mr. Talbot said, is whether Suffolk County would approve the necessary septic system. But Ms. Cannon said the village holds some development rights it could transfer to Hill Street so the apartments meet county sanitary requirements.

Village Mayor Mark Epley said he supports bringing affordable housing to 71 Hill Street—and above all the stores in the village business district, for that matter—but lack of sanitation systems in the village is holding it back.

According to the Planning Commission, there are only 20 certificates of occupancy for upstairs apartments in the business district today, down from a peak of as many as 80 or 100 in the past.

Mr. Talbot said the village lost four legal apartments on Jobs Lane last year due to commercial redevelopment.

Standing in a room full of boxes at 71 Hill Street, Mr. Talbot saw possibilities for reversing the trend.

“This would be paradise,” he said, looking out the window. “And if you squint hard enough, you can see the ocean from here.”

Ms. Gotthelf said she has plans to remove one building at 71 Hill Street and replace it with four-star hotel suites for extended stays. But “the market is not wonderful right now,” she said, and those plans might be put on hold for three to five years. Delaying the demolition would open up opportunities in the meantime for workforce apartments and also give the village Building Department more time to find a new home. The village leases space from Ms. Gotthelf for the Building Department.

On top of the luxury market being on the decline, Ms. Gotthelf indicated—giving a thumbs down and making a raspberry sound simultaneously—that the office-rental market is also doing poorly, causing her to lean toward residential opportunities.

In his decision to reconsider his condo plans, Mr. Roperto also cited the state of the markets.

He said he bought his 3-acre parcel on Hampton Road for $2.3 million four year ago and imagined then that the condos would sell for between $2.4 million and $3.1 million each. But now, “it’s not going to happen in this economy.”

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Wow. We need WORKPLACE houseing? No joke.

Not so long ago this same board REQUIRED a Wickapogue road homeowner to relinquish a CO for a legal, pre-existing affordable apartment as a requirement before they would give approval for a one lot subdivision upon which another big house has been built.

What they told the local family living in the apartment was "we can't allow population density to increase." I'm living in Virginia at the moment in order to spare Southampton Village ...more
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Mar 7, 09 7:03 AM