Dan Rattiner's Stories

Full Speed Ahead: Projects to End the Trade Parade & Create Affordable Housing

Local governments are very busy in the Hamptons.

Local governments throughout the Hamptons have been busier than I have ever seen, trying to find ways to create affordable housing in this community.

As you know, almost any little humble abode you could find for sale in the Hamptons will set you back no less than $500,000. Indeed, if you find one for sale, you will probably already be bidding against a New York summer person who could well afford that price.

Thus, our children can’t afford this community, and the people who live and work here can’t afford the community. If they work here or want to be near here, they have to either have inherited a home from relatives or have to drive out on the Sunrise Highway from Brookhaven and other points west, where there are homes more affordable. Thus we have the “trade parade” every morning, where eastbound traffic crawls to a standstill for two hours, and late in the day this parade, the other way, does the same thing.

But help is on the way. On March 4, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is adding two trains for commuters. The first will begin in the west every morning at Speonk at 5:16 a.m., make 10 stops, and conclude in Amagansett around 7:15 a.m. The second train from Hampton Bays leaves at 8:26 a.m. and ends in Montauk about an hour later. These will be in addition to the regular morning train that begins in Manhattan and makes every stop out here. Getting off at a destination station in the Hamptons, those on board will be able to take “last mile” busses to destinations beyond walking distance from the station.

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This effort has been approved for one year as an experiment by the State of New York. Bus shuttle service from the train stations is being negotiated to be contracted out to Hampton Jitney and Hampton Hopper. Cost of a round trip? Around $8.50. It will help.

And there is much else.

East Hampton Town has just unanimously approved the purchase of four acres in North Wainscott for a new affordable housing project on land formerly owned by the Triune Baptist Church. It is expected that eventually a total of 27 below-market homes will be built there.

Meanwhile, a project approved in 2018 by the East Hampton Housing Authority for affordable housing on land in Amagansett east of the Amagansett IGA will have a groundbreaking ceremony this spring. This project will be 37 units.

Southampton Town, meanwhile, is considering a proposal to provide farm labor housing on an eight-acre agricultural reserve on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton. There seems to be precedent for this. Some years ago, farm worker housing was approved for both Wölffer Estate Stables in Sagaponack and Two Trees Farm in Hayground. This current farmland, however, is adjacent to several McMansions. The property is owned by a New York hedge fund executive, whose name is hidden behind a limited liability company.

The proposal reportedly requests two new buildings, one with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and living room, and the other with one bedroom, a kitchen, dining rom and a living room, which makes one wonder if this isn’t just a guest house application in disguise, which would not be allowed. There are ways to prevent that.

In any case, it did result in a woman who owns one of the nearby McMansions objecting to the proposed farm housing and saying that if it goes ahead as planned, with the farm housing 70 feet from her swimming pool, “my kids don’t understand how they can do this. My girls say they will never use the pool again.” Whatever that meant. This was quoted in The Southampton Press.

Meanwhile, a New York Court of Appeals has refused to consider an appeal by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society that had challenged the building of farm-related structures—barns, greenhouses, sheds, stables, employee housing on preserved farmland. There had apparently been what looked like a loophole in the original law that would result in no such things being allowed, or at least those filing the lawsuit thought. Turns out there is no loophole.

Then there is the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center on the Sag Harbor Turnpike. In the 1940s and 1950s, the local potato farmers brought busloads of African-Americans up from the South to help with the potato harvest and potato packing during every July, August and September, and to live in farm barracks buildings that had no heat, septic or running water.

In one of these barracks in 1949, the women were called out to join the men doing the picking, leaving the children in the barracks by themselves for the day. A fire broke out and two children died. As a result, the farmers got together and said this should never happen again, and they bought and donated to a nonprofit a small six-acre farm on the turnpike to the community to use as a childcare center when the parents were working.

The interesting part of this is that here in 2019, exactly 70 years later, the Child Care Center—hoping to replace the broken-down 1,800-square-foot farmhouse building with a new 7,000-square-foot structure—has just announced they have enough money donated by generous philanthropic people set aside to begin construction. They hope to have permits in order before this year is out. They give thanks to all who donated. The cost will be approximately $1.8 million. Here will be after-school lectures, classes for dance, college prep, computer skills, chess, music, acting, soccer, basketball, baseball and, of course, childcare, all for those in need in this area. What a great thing!

And there is still more!

Southampton Town two weeks ago unanimously approved an interesting plan to allow homeowners to build accessory apartments on their properties throughout the town. There are restrictions. The property must be located in a low-density area (fewer than 500 people per square mile), as defined in the law, and rents charged can be no greater than federal housing standards for low-moderate and middle-income tenants. And the prospective tenants must prove low incomes to qualify for the apartments.

As you may know, Donald Trump had about a dozen employees of one of his golf clubs summarily fired because they were immigrants here without proper papers. Well, now there is a groundswell in this community, led by a local chapter of the New York Progressive Action Network, to repeal a state law that refuses to give undocumented people driver’s licenses. That law went into effect in 2005.

Before that, illegal immigrants and others could apply and get driver’s licenses. Half a dozen progressive groups are trying to get Albany to go back to how it was. As you know, when our police give out tickets to drivers without licenses, these people can wind up in the clutches of ICE, the federal immigration service, which, even with no criminal record, sometimes earmarks them for deportation.

Finally, just this past week, our local state assemblyman Fred Thiele announced a new state bill that would in the end provide millions of dollars to our local towns for housing for low-income people. As you probably know, there is currently a law, administered by the county, that in every real estate transaction in the Hamptons above $250,000, the amount above that sum is subject to a 2% real estate transfer tax that is used to preserve open space. Thiele’s bill would be for all five East End towns.

It would raise the $250,000 to $350,000 in Shelter Island, East Hampton and Southampton towns (and go from $150,000 to $250,000 in Riverhead and Southold) and increase the tax above that amount to 2.5%, with the extra 0.5% used to fund this new Town Community Housing Fund.

It’s been a cold winter. People have begun to think about important things. And a lot is being done.

I almost included in this report a land purchase by East Hampton Village. It’s going to be a teardown. The Village is buying a one-acre property with a home on it that sits on the edge of Hook Pond. The cost of the purchase is $4.8 million. The house is a small mansion of no great architectural importance and, when removed, will leave the land in its natural state. With the septic system gone, it will help the ecology of the pond, and will reduce by one the number of houses out here that need low income workers from the trade parade to take care of it.

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