Housing Needs Unmet In Zoning Proposal

Are elected officials adequately meeting the needs of the town’s demographics?

    It is unfortunate that the final days of the East Hampton Town Board’s Republican majority have come down to this: a poorly considered proposal to amend the town’s zoning code in a way that would violate the comprehensive plan and, perhaps, state law.

    A public hearing expected tonight at Town Hall is on a proposal to create a new high-density land classification for older residents which could, by some estimates, add as many as 1,000 new housing units. Given that the sites that could be included in the new zone are largely ones for which the comprehensive plan has recommended less intensive uses, it is doubtful whether the proposal would be legal unless the comprehensive plan, the overarching vision document, were amended.

    The debate surrounding this does, however, bring to the forefront the question of whether elected officials are adequately meeting the needs of the town’s demographics. A perspective shared, we believe, by many employers and workers here alike is that much more must be done to make housing available for people with low and moderate incomes.

    Without a clear benefit to the community in the form of affordability or handicapped access, for example, allowing higher-density zones on individual properties would be illegal spot-zoning. Put another way, courts have said that if the benefits flow mostly to the developers, or run counter to a town’s comprehensive plan, a project may be invalid from the start.

    The concept is that in properly thought-out senior citizen zones, developers can be given permission for greater residential concentrations than normally allowed in return for assuring affordable housing. Special permits are granted only in exchange for reasonable rents, environmental protections, and other considerations, such as proximity to medical facilities, shopping, and public transportation. Then, too, such “floating” districts can be designed so that all ages might live there.

    Planning for an aging population cannot be overlooked. The proposal that prompted the hearing tonight, for luxury residences for people entering their golden years, is at best a faint response to that need. Nor can a case be made that well-to-do weekenders over 55 are in need of special accommodation. The market-rate concept put forward at a Connecticut developer’s behest is not the way to go.

    East Hampton Town may well require more housing options for young people, the work force, and its older residents. The proposal that was to be considered tonight meets none of these needs.