Southampton Association Discussion
Overbuilding on Small and Medium Sized Lots
What Can You Do?
At the Meeting of the Directors and Members of the Southampton Association on Friday, July 24th, two new laws, introduced by the Mayor and passed by the Trustees on the previous Monday and involving new construction in the Village, were discussed. They were considered positive efforts in that they restricted the height of new construction on small (half acre or less) and medium (half acre to an acre) size lots and specified on-site parking requirements for the purpose of minimizing on-street parking. However, the Mayor and Trustees left open for further discussions and analysis an additional law dealing with gross floor area. And the new parking rules opened up serious questions about lot coverage.
The Officers of the Southampton Administration and its legal and zoning advisors are asking all members of the Association to get involved as we need to continue to be an advisor to the Trustees and Planning Commission to be certain our efforts produce a package of laws that are truly game changing and effective.
The purpose of these three pages is to summarize what has been passed, what is still open and what we think needs to be said and done to complete our protective efforts.
Two Laws Passed
The first new law dealt with the height of new construction on small lots:
effectively knocking 5 feet off the height of new houses in lots under 20,000 sq ft and
2 feet off the height of new houses in lots from 20,000 to 40,000 sq ft.
This means that any new construction that does not have an existing building permit – requiring Building Department and ARB approval – must meet the new height restrictions.
The second law dealt with the need for off street parking to reduce traffic congestion in small lot neighborhoods:
connected off street parking requirements to number of bedrooms – effectively, parking must be provided for one car per bedroom minus one.
defined a bedroom in accordance with Suffolk County Health regulations
defined size of parking space as 18 feet by 10 feet and required that each space have convenient access to the street (only one car may be moved).
defined parking setbacks – 5 feet on front and side yards and 10 feet on back yard.
This means that driveways have to be 20 feet wide and that parking in front of the house is permitted. And there is no limit on paving to provide parking spaces.
One Law Change Left Open for Discussion with Planning Commission
A law change that reduced the Gross Floor Area has been sent to the Planning Commission for review and analysis. It is a bit more complicated than height change and reduces house size by only 5-6% but needs to be part of a complete solution to the size of new construction.
It is all about Grass
To meet the parking rules, a very large part of a small lot could end up paved. This would be highly unacceptable for any neighborhood for three main reasons:
1. The ambience that comes with grass lawns is important to all these small lot neighborhoods.
2. Rain water absorption capacity is diminished increasing neighbor and street flooding.
3. Careful screening to separate lots visually will be needed and the Village has no experts to either approve or enforce good screening.
It will not be perfect but we need to push hard for;
1. No more than 50% of the lot can be designated for house, structures, pools, patios and parking areas whether paved or not.
2. Screening of a height no less than the tallest SUV must be planted to block out vehicles.
3. Very tight drainage requirements.
The 2 E’s – Expertise and Enforcement
We need a substantial increase in the quantity and quality of expertise within the Village administration as it relates to housing approval and maintenance. We need:
1. Independent experts to prepare the ARB materials and to advise the ARB on building and landscape architectural matters.
2. To strengthen conflict of interest procedures at the ZBA, ARB and PC, so that active players in the real estate chain and/or members of the ZBA, ARB or PC cannot undermine or take personal advantage of the system.
3. Require all tree removals on public land to be approved at the Trustee level.
How to Influence the Village
The Mayor is the primary decision-maker in our Village. He appoints the boards, consultants and attorneys, so his influence dwarfs all others. The Trustees generally only get to approve or reject his appointments. However, they are all elected officials and, therefore, subject to public overview.
Speaking at Board of Trustees meetings, even if only for the allowed three minutes, on a regular basis has an impact. Thoughtful commentary with serious suggestions is most effective. Otherwise, emails to the Mayor (which are distributed to the Trustees) and letters to the Mayor (that are copied to the Trustees) are effective. Write one email a week on one or another of the topics. If have questions or need clarification, contact us through the Association email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry – with a few emails under your belt, you will get the hang of it.
Go to Planning Commission meetings and speak out when you can. It is here that the issues are being discussed in detail and where interjecting ideas can be very valuable.
Finally, attend and speak at ARB meetings. If the new construction is incompatible with the neighborhood, particularly as to massing, scale and design, tell them how you see it. Don’t forget, you are probably not in conflict with a new neighbor; you are in conflict with a speculator that doesn’t live here. And if he is building crappy houses, tell him so, stressing the Code and neighborhood anger.
To get emails to the Mayor, email email@example.com. To call him at 283-0427, ext. 222. His assistant is Brenda and she is always helpful.
To find out the times of meetings, go to www.southamptonvillage.org to check the calendar as to the date of meetings and then click on the meeting to find the time. Almost all meetings are at Village Hall – 23 Main Street.
NEW LAWS COMING UP
The Village has proposed a new law intended to restrict the height of new construction in FEMA zones where the base flood elevation (the height of the first floor above ground level) is anywhere from 3 to 16 feet above the grade. It is a complicated Pyramid Formula that will require some analysis to determine the value of the proposed changes. We are testing it against 40 Meadow Lane, the most obvious of the bad construction permitted in FEMA zones. The SHA will get information out to you when the analysis is completed.