A divide between members of the Riverside community and the Southampton Town board continues to widen after a town board meeting on Tuesday that drew a line in the proverbial sand.
For weeks, four community groups in the Riverside and Flanders area have voiced their mutualby the Town's housing authority to determine whether residents would rather have affordable private home ownership or rentals developed in a number of properties that will be deeded to the town by Suffolk County.
On Tuesday, a crowd of residents, including representatives from all four community groups in the Riverside and Flanders area, stood in solidarity. "No one testified in support of the proposal for tax exempt single family rentals in Riverside," said Vince Taldone, Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Civic Association vice president.
He added that both Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Councilwoman Bridget Fleming "tried repeatedly to obfuscate and tell half truths about alleged consideration of similar projects in other parts of town. When pressed by a member of our organization to name the other sites in town that are in the pipeline for tax exempt single family houses, there was only a general discussion of studying such sites. Of course, that is because there are no other affordable single family home projects advancing to construction in any hamlets outside ours. Not one."
On Thursday, Throne-Holst commented on the controversy over the survey. "I'm a little taken aback by the resistance from this group to what is at issue here; namely, the proposed mailing of a survey to ascertain the interest, or not, in workforce housing alternatives in the area," she said. "Why wouldn't any and all want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to weigh in?"
While the town is "well aware and respectful of" FRNCA's position, Throne-Holst said a survey would help all involved glean as much useful informaton as possible.
For some time, the FRNCA and other community groups have opposed the development of single family, property-tax exempt rental housing in the Riverside area.
FRNCA president Brad Bender has long said the houses should be utilized not for rentals, but for affordable home ownership where residents would be vested in the community. “We are not against affordable housing,” said Bender. “Those properties pay zero property tax, thus shifting the burden of lost revenue to the homeowners in the district.”
The 72-H properties were previously seized by Suffolk County for non-payment of back taxes. They were later deeded to Southampton Town with the understanding that the town’s housing authority would rehabilitate the properties for use as affordable housing.
Town officials and Richard Blowes, executive director of the housing authority, have said they would like to see developed.
"I continue to support the development of affordable housing opportunities, as our young men, women and families continue to leave Southampton in search of just that," Bender said on Friday. "We need to continue to create homes for ownership and any rental properties developed should be required to make payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) payments to offset the tax loss to the community."
At Tuesday's meeting, Taldone said Fleming "was the most ferocious in her attack on my comments. She apparently finds no difference between the benefit of having home owners on the block as oposed to an absentee landlord with only tenants in occupancy."
Fleming responded on Thursday and said she continues to work with the community and the town's housing authority to find common ground and to "come up with real solutions to difficult problems. Housing blight from absentee landlords is an issue we can't ignore," she said.
Fleming said she is proud of a recent affordable home refurbishment completed with United Way and YouthBuild on Ludlam Avenue in Riverside. Fleming said she also added amendments to two resolutions to ensure the concerns of community members "are not ignored." The resolutions, she said, were adopted unanimously.
Moving forward, Taldone said plans include a "last ditch effort," by FRNCA to reach out to the three Republicans on the town board to introduce a resolution, amending the original that authorizes the transfer of the five Riverside parcels in question to the town's housing authority, so that the reso reads "use for affordable home ownership only."
He added, "If they are willing to do that, I imagine that the housing authority will abandon its effort to force the house rentals down our throats since the survey, no matter how craftily worded, won't change things."
On Friday, Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he would support the resolution in regard to the properties discussed being developed for affordable home ownership only. "I always intended for that to be the case," he said.
Taldone said "sadly" the supervisor and town board would not "back away" from the decision to send out the surveys; Taldone says the views of the community are clear and the survey is a waste of time and money.
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