Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell wants the town to consider long-term solutions for its tourism-related traffic woes, address the lack of affordable housing in the area and relocate and renovate its justice court in 2018.
In his annual State of the Town address, Russell said the region has successfully marketed itself as a destination for foodies, pumpkin pickers and other tourists, but that the result has been clogged roads on busy weekends.
“There’s very little you can do about volume but discourage people from coming, and we don’t want to do that,” Russell said Thursday.
Long-term solutions like road widening and additional traffic lights in the bucolic region are likely to be expensive and unpopular, he said, but will be needed.
“That’s the reality. There’s no way around it,” he said.
Russell will also float a proposition before the town board to charge private businesses that draw so many customers during the tourist season that they require traffic control from Southold Police. Under the proposal, the police chief would evaluate each instance and determine how much the police presence would have cost taxpayers if private businesses weren’t billed.
Russell pointed to the lavender farm Lavender By The Bay in East Marion, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, and estimated it cost the town $6,000 last year to police the roads in that area.
“It’s become a very expensive proposition, and we’re reacting to circumstances as they come up,” he said.
The town also plans to purchase a former Capital One bank building on Main Road in Southold to be used as the new town justice court. It will cost an estimated $5.5 million to buy and renovate the building, Russell said, but is the most cost-efficient option compared to leasing space or constructing a building. The town will have to hire additional public works staffers to maintain the building, which dates to the 1920s or ’30s and needs repairs.
Court and town officials have been calling for an updated justice court for years. Court proceedings are now held in the same room as town board meetings, and justice court offices are housed in a modular unit on the town hall campus.
To address the need for affordable housing in the region, the town will consider revising its code to promote apartments for family members in accessory structures, he said. Town officials are also considering purchasing a 10-acre parcel, possibly to be used by the developers behind Sports East, a private, large-scale sports recreational facility originally pitched for Mattituck but rejected by the zoning board of appeals. Russell declined to identify the property.
The town ended 2017 on a fiscal high note, with a fund balance $1 million higher than anticipated, Russell said.