East Hampton Town will alter the rules governing accessory apartments that will double the number of apartments allowed and reduce the minimum size of lots where apartments can be put above garages or in detached dwellings to a half-acre.
With East Hampton Town appearing poised to finally adopt the expanded affordable accessory apartments legislation it was been working on for months, neighborhood advocates said they still worry about the impacts of the liberalized restrictions and the open-ended future of the program.
Springs resident David Buda, a frequent critic of town policymaking, told the Town Board last week that cutting the minimum size of the lot where an accessory apartment can be put in a detached structure, like above a garage, to just a half-acre, is flirting with creating detrimental impacts on neighborhoods throughout the town.
“This violates the fundamental rule of zoning: that there be one dwelling unit per lot,” Buda said during a public hearing on the proposed amendments to the affordable accessory apartment code.
“You can’t put two bedrooms, up to 900 square feet, in an accessory apartment on a 20,000-square-foot property without, in my opinion, causing detrimental impacts to the neighborhood, the character of the community and the environment of the community,” he said, noting that the septic systems on most homes are only designed for up to four bedrooms and are already being used to their maximum effectiveness for controlling leaching of nutrients into groundwater, if not over-burdened already. “I’m afraid you’re going to do more harm than good.”
Town officials have been wrestling for more than a year with how to spur the creation of more accessory apartments in homes throughout the community. The code, created in the 1980s, has long allowed for up to 100 apartments scattered throughout the town — 20 in each of the five school districts — but only 48 are currently in place.
The original 1-acre lot size requirement was cut to three-quarters of an acre in the hope of expanding participation and now the newest revision cuts it again to a half-acre. It also doubles the number of the apartments allowed to 40 in each school district, 200 in all, and expands the allowed size to as much as 1,200 square feet for an attached unit in the primary dwelling and as many as two bedrooms. Units in detached structures, like converted garages or apartments above a garage, may not be more than 600 square feet.
Some property owners have said that the expense of creating a new apartment, which can be as much as $100,000 or more in a new space, is not justified by the restricted rents that can be charged. The town has said that while it cannot lift the rental price caps, for fear of losing the apartments to summer rentals, it hopes to be able to help homeowners with the costs of construction once more revenue comes in from the newly funded Community Housing Fund program.
Amagansett resident Jaine Mehring said that she thinks the town should make it abundantly clear that regardless of the new rules, it will still require all new structures to comport to the existing rules on lot coverage and setbacks and the allowed “gross floor area” of the total space of living spaces on a property.
“Somewhere it should also say that the addition of whatever structures are created should still comport with coverages and all the other dimensional parts of the code,” she said.
Buda said he worries that the new proposal will not be the end of the expansion of the program, but rather a “camel’s nose under the tent” that, if it is finally embraced, will open the door to a much broader allowance.
Town officials have said that they see the accessory apartments as a way to create low-cost rental units of the sort that have evaporated in the community in the last several years with the rise of Airbnb profiteering on short-term (and largely illegal) rentals and the pandemic-driven housing frenzy that has removed hundreds of former rental properties from the market.
Board members made no comments on the proposal and have not yet scheduled a vote to approve it.
Planning Director Jeremey Samuelson, whose department has spearheaded the effort to adjust the accessory apartments law in ways that will incentivize homeowners to create them, said that the focus all along has been how to loosen the constraints just enough to spur creation of the units wanted without letting it get out of hand and result in negative impacts on neighbors.
“The intent throughout the entirety of this process,” he said, “is not only to convince ourselves that this is a project that is needed, but that it is done in a way that upholds our shared responsibility to protect the character of neighborhoods, quality of life and the environmental resources of the town.”
One fine body…