Affordable Housing in Amagansett Has Overwhelming Support
A chorus of support for the proposed 37-unit housing complex planned by the East Hampton Housing Authority on Montauk Highway in Amagansett was so unreservedly positive at an East Hampton Town Planning Board public hearing on May 2 that the board agreed there was no reason to keep the hearing open for written comments for two weeks.
"It sounds to me as if the community has spoken," Catherine Casey, the executive director of the housing authority, said. The board voted to close the hearing, albeit with a caveat to allow the town's Natural Resource Department to weigh in on any questions about the sewage treatment plant to be part of the complex.
The development, which has been called affordable housing, will have rental apartments for those who work full-time, year-round in East Hampton Town and do not own property. They will need to meet income eligibility requirements, but only a small percentage of units will be subsidized.
On a 4.6-acre site between the Amagansett IGA supermarket and V and V Auto, 12 buildings with one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments are to be built, plus one four-bedroom unit. After presentations by the architect and a civil engineer, the board heard residents describe reasons for the project, touching on everything from business vitality to the very preservation of the community. No dissenting opinions were voiced.
Residents cited the capricious nature of the local housing market as the overwhelming reason why workforce housing was needed. The market, they said, often entices second-home owners to cash in on rising property values and landlords to forego year-round leases in order to charge high summer rents.
George Dempsey, an East Hampton family physician, said he was eager to grow his practice but had been unable to persuade doctors and other health-care professionals to relocate here because of the high cost of housing. "I've hired up to seven recruiters at a time, but to no avail," he said.
Matthew Feyh, a member of the Amagansett Fire Department, said he had rented two houses that ended up being sold before he and his family, including two children in the fourth and second grades, were able to move in to their current rental. "Every year I have to sign a new lease and it's with trepidation," he said. "Come spring, am I going to be able to renew my lease? Am I going to have to rip my children out of school?"
In an emotional speech, Caroline Cashin, co-president of the Amagansett School PTA, said some students were unsettled and negatively affected by unpredictable housing. Ms. Cashin read from a letter she had written in February to the East Hampton Housing Authority. "It is my duty to promote the welfare of the children in the school. And nothing would help a child more than having a strong community around them, and knowing they have a permanent home."
Richard Whalen, a lawyer whose office is across the street from the proposed housing, said that even though he was likely to be inconvenienced by increased traffic he strongly supports the project because the cost of living in the hamlet was too high for professionals, let alone people working at lower-paying jobs. "If that's the way Amagansett is going to go, you're not going to have any local people living here anymore," he said. "I worry about the place I live, I worry about my church, I worry about the Fire Department.
The East Hampton Housing Authority lists current fair market rents for the apartments at $1,527 for one-bedroom, $1,878 for a two-bedroom, $2,428 for a three-bedroom, and $2,999 for the four-bedroom. The rent that tenants will actually pay will be based on their income and family size. Eight units of varying sizes will be reserved for Section 8 residents, that is, those making less than 30 percent of the area's median income, and nine units each will be reserved for those making 60, 90, and 130 percent of the median.
Job Potter, the chairman of the planning board, who had been the lone voice against closing the hearing, said the Planning Department would write a report on the comments made at the hearing and the board would discuss it at its next session, May 16.