Town Board weighs in on slope building restrictions

PETER BOODY PHOTO | The Town Board met Tuesday in a work session.

What a Planning Board member called a “questionable argument” in 2004 is what convinced the Town Board to require the Planning Board to exclude any land with a slope steeper than 20 percent from the developable area of any subdivision proposal.

Now the planners want the Town Board to think again.

The rule, which can limit the number of building lots a subdivision plan might yield, should be changed back to the steeper 30-percent limit that was in effect before 2004 — or perhaps it should be eliminated entirely.

That’s what Planning Board Chairman Paul Mobius and member Ian McDonald argued at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. A current subdivision proposal for 10 acres in a two-acre zone yields only two lots, in part because of the slope exclusion, Mr. Mobius told the board.

Then-Planning Board Chairman Art Barnett, in making the argument for a shallower slope limit in 2004, cited a document called the “Rural Design Workbook” drafted by Cornell University students, Mr. McDonald said. But it turns out to have applied only to properties of more than 100 acres “with features in need of preservation,” Mr. McDonald said, so it was the basis of “a questionable argument.”

Mr. Mobius noted that there’s nothing in the town code to prevent construction of slopes steeper than 20 or 30 percent. Even if sloped land is deducted when computing lot yield for any particular subdivision proposal, he added, it doesn’t mean that a future property owner won’t be free to build on a sloped area. It merely means that an area of land that might have yielded two lots will be sold as only one, for example.

Town Board members seemed receptive to rolling back the rule or, like the towns of Southold and Riverhead, having no mention of slope restrictions in the code at all. Southampton Town, the planners noted, uses the steeper 30-percent slope limit.

Councilman Peter Reich quipped that, if the rule had been applied to every property in hilly Shelter Island Heights west of Grand Avenue, there would have been “zero yield” of lots there when it was subdivided.

Councilman Paul Shepherd, the Town Board’s liaison to the Planning Board, asked to discuss the issue further with the planners at their next meeting before the Town Board makes a decision.

In other news, the board is expected to vote at its meeting on Friday to accept the bid of Corazzini Asphalt for a long-planned, federally funded erosion control project for the Second Causeway, much like one that was carried out several years ago on the First Causeway. The bid was $707,822.40 but Public Works Commissioner Jay Card has said he’d seek a lower price if the Highway Department handles the landscaping and replanting portions of the job.
The project calls for reinforcing the Coecles Harbor beachfront along the Second Causeway with stone structures, covering them with sand, relandscaping and replanting the area and repaving the roads.

Mr. Card has said he expected it would be spring before the project is completed but that the work would not interrupt the flow of traffic on the Causeway.