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Large homes in Southold threaten community character, civic groups say

Several civic groups are pushing the Southold Town

Several civic groups are pushing the Southold Town Board to adopt zoning code changes to limit house sizes to help "preserve community character." Credit: Southold civic groups

Southold civic groups say the proliferation of large houses in recent years is threatening the character of the town to the point where officials should consider implementing limits on property size.

George Cork Maul, director of the New Suffolk Civic Association, said that in the past few years he and others have seen a trend of larger homes start to pop up in Southold, particularly near waterfront areas.

"They block the viewscape and they change the sense of small-town community," said Maul, 68, who has lived in New Suffolk for 30 years. "People who have lived here their whole lives are upset by that. Community character is more than just zoning. It’s the idea of a social network of people and a way of living that’s not the same as some urban and suburban sections of Long Island have become. We’d like to be able to hold on to that as long as possible."

While Southold’s town code has zoning guidelines on house size and density, they only cover minimum lot size and don’t mention specific limits on how large a home can be. For that reason, civic groups contend there is little to stop large-scale homes from being built in their respective hamlets — something they said threatens the quiet, idyllic nature that Southold is largely known for.

"I think people here think [large houses] didn’t affect us too much until the last couple of years," said Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association. "Now it’s become really obvious, especially with the pandemic with house sales climbing. Now you see these giant things going up. When you think about our environment, which is so fragile out here, people are building giant homes on the water, and to me, that’s just fighting Mother Nature."

At a Feb. 23 town board work session, representatives from those groups presented several ideas to the Southold Town Board on why and how to limit house size in town. Suggestions include establishing an appropriate maximum gross floor area — or the sum of the floor areas of the spaces within the building — as well as establishing regulations on nonconforming house sizes.

Councilman Jim Dinizio expressed reservations, saying it would be a "very difficult lift to say that a house is too big or that a house is too small."

"I’m not a person who thinks that house size is any problem in Southold Town," Dinizio said, adding he felt the town’s zoning regulations are clear and adequate.

The town board is scheduled Tuesday to discuss setting up a joint forum with local civic groups so the public can listen and weigh in on the issues related to large houses.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said that with large homes becoming more visible in different areas of town, more residents may be open now to changing the code to restrict house size.

"I think the mindset has shifted quite a bit because it seems that every community out here has had someone come along and build a house that’s so enormous it’s completely outside the scale of the surrounding community," Russell said. "Those homes are becoming very imposing on the existing community."

LESS IS MORE

  • Groups including the East Marion Community Association, the New Suffolk Civic Association, the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association, Orient Association and Cutchogue Civic Association want to address the impact of large homes in their communities.
  • They have suggested establishing guidelines for variances on up to 125 percent of existing neighborhood development so homes can be modified within the scope of fitting the community character.
  • The groups hope to see Southold Town adopt code changes to limit house size between July and August.
  • They point to neighboring East End communities such as Sag Harbor, Southampton and Shelter Island as examples of how their house-size limits work for them.

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