East Hampton Town will purchase 4 acres in Wainscott for an affordable housing complex.
The town board approved a deal on Jan. 17 with Triune Baptist Church to buy the land at Route 114 for $900,000 and create a complex with up to 27 units. No formal proposal has been submitted, although town officials said there may be a joint project with the adjacent 2-acre property owned by Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust. Any project will require an environmental review.
The proposal was mostly met with support during a public hearing, although representatives of the Wainscott School District expressed concerns over its effect on its one-room schoolhouse, and others stated environmental concerns. Still, board members moved ahead, noting that it takes on average six to eight years to complete such a project and that high real estate values have limited the housing stock for low- and middle-income earners.
“We need to purchase this immediately and also more,” Councilman David Lys said shortly before the board voted 5-0 in favor of the purchase. “I do fully believe that affordable housing can be designed to . . . be environmentally sensitive and within the character of the neighborhood.”
The hamlet has been home to the one-room Wainscott School since 1730, Wainscott School District president David Eagan said during the public hearing. Students in kindergarten through third grade are taught in a collaborative classroom by three full-time teachers, Eagan said in an interview. About 30 children are enrolled at the school, which was built in 2008 — the fifth school to stand on the site — although it has capacity for 24 students, he said. District students in grades fourth through 12 may attend school in either the Sag Harbor or East Hampton school districts.
“We are really at the brink where this concept goes away,” Eagan said this week.
He noted the district has experienced a 213 percent enrollment increase since 2013. Of Wainscott’s 279 full-time residents, 129 are enrolled in the school district and 60 percent of its K-3 students are English-language learners, he said.
Eagan read a letter from Councilman Jeff Bragman during the hearing stating the board is “working on a solution so it [the school] would not be adversely affected” although, it is unclear what steps the board would take to mitigate the project’s impact.
David Buda, of Springs, spoke in favor of the plan, noting Wainscott’s comparatively low tax rate. Wainscott property taxes are about $500 per $1,000 of assessed value, versus more than $1,400 per $1,000 of assessed value in Springs, according to data from the town tax assessor's office.
Others in the community wondered what the point is of keeping a one-room schoolhouse if ensuring its existence meant graduates would one day be priced out of East Hampton Town.
“My younger son had a treasured experience at the Wainscott school,” Wainscott resident Ed Reale said during the hearing. “He’s now in his late 20s. He, his brother and almost all of their childhood friends can no longer afford to live here.”