Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell wants to create new affordable housing units in commercial areas, establish a youth court for minor crimes and keep environmental protection one of the town’s top priorities.
In his annual State of the Town address on Thursday, Russell said he plans to propose legislation that would allow buildings in commercial zones to be turned into affordable housing units.
“That’s where we want vibrancy,” Russell said of commercial zones. “We want walkable communities.”
Like many East End towns, Southold faces a shortage of affordable housing, causing “people who are critical to this town” to leave, Russell told about 20 people at Town Hall.
Last year, Russell called for the town to create 50 new affordable housing units over the next three years. The town voted to double the density permitted per acre for such projects from six units to 12, but no new units have been built since.
Under current town codes, buildings in commercial zones must be used primarily for businesses. But a number of these buildings are vacant and “aren’t invested in,” Russell said. His legislation would permit up to six affordable housing units per commercial building.
The proposal could “substantially reduce the NIMBYism we normally face,” Russell said, referring to an acronym for “not in my backyard,” a term used to describe residents’ opposition to changes.
To dispel “myths” about the type of people who need affordable housing — who mostly comprise young people and seniors — the town’s Housing Advisory Commission is making a video about the need for affordable housing, using a grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, Russell said.
In another initiative, the town’s new youth bureau director, Lynn Nyilas, is working to create a youth court to keep young people “out of the traditional justice system,” Russell said.
Youth courts, such as ones in the East End towns of Riverhead and Southampton, allow first-time juvenile offenders accused of nonviolent crimes to appear before a court of their peers for trial. Sentences, which can include community service projects and written apologies, seek to have offenders learn from their mistakes.
Nyilas, who is trained in suicide prevention tactics, is also looking to expand mental health services for families.
Russell said he has an “extensive list” of environmental measures, which include increasing the deer population cull, installing cameras to monitor underground drainage systems and trying to halt the sale of federally owned Plum Island.
The town is also creating a working group to review Southold codes about agriculture to “focus on the growth and new challenges” of the farming, wine and brewing industries.
“All the different departments understand that [protecting] the environment is one of the principal goals of this town, so everyone works together to advance environmental issues,” Russell said.
Citing the town’s decision to raise taxes 7.5 percent for 2017, Russell said there is now a $1.5 million budget to resurface beaten roads over the next five to seven years.
“I know it was very unpopular for my proposal to raise taxes,” Russell said. “We needed to get the work done.”