A building application before the Town Board on July 19 reignited a debate the board and the public have had for years over the sizes of houses, water use and short-term rentals (STRs).
Seth and Bonnie Harris of 4 Bootleggers Alley have asked the board for a special permit to demolish a house that has 6,658 square feet of living space and a 1,088 square foot accessory structure with sleeping quarters. The application then calls for merging that lot with one on Nostrand Parkway and building a single family residence of 9,200 square feet of living space with an accessory building with sleeping quarters, bringing the living space to 11,000 square feet.
If a project is over 6,000 square feet, the owner needs a permit from the board.
All told, there would be 11 bedrooms, a pool, tennis court and terraces at the house the Harrises want to build.
Southampton attorney John Bennett, who is representing the Harrises, noted several times that the application is a “give-back to the town” since they are only building on one lot and decreasing potential density in the area.
Councilman Paul Shepherd said he and his colleagues “appreciate what could have been. This is what will be.”
Mr. Bennett also noted that with the new structure, there is only a net gain of one bedroom on two lots, which is significant, he said, for water use in the area. The size of the house is appropriate to the area, he added, and listed square footage numbers for several houses nearby. Although all are large houses, none topped 11,000 square feet of living space.
Several neighbors told the board that a house with that number of bathrooms, bedrooms and a laundry room would be coming into an area where the availability of water is at a crisis. A large new house will strain already severe shortages of water. Two residents said that they restrict the flushing of toilets because of the shortage, and they, along with others, said their water isn’t potable.
Mr. Bennett said the Harrises are committed to installing a nitrogen-reducing I/A (Innovative Alternative) septic system for the proposed house.
One resident told the board he was concerned that the house, if built, could become an Airbnb location. Mr. Bennett said his clients were willing to put restrictions on the house’s use. “If the town attorney and Town Board want to craft language to restrict its use as an Airbnb or a B&B, we would welcome that,” he said.
Mr. Shepherd noted that many owners of large houses “when they can’t sell them will go dark on us with potential hotels on the perimeter.” Owners, he added, often can’t find buyers for large houses and then move on to other options, such as rentals.
Delaney Foster, a Bootleggers Alley resident, said, “Airbnbs have nothing to do with no drinking water.” Mr. Shepherd countered that “it could, because instead of a standard family occupancy rate of [water] consumption, you have a full occupancy rate of consumption which could double, triple or quadruple water being used.”
Mr. Foster said restricting an Airbnb use “does not solve my water problem.”
Mr. Bennett also said that the new structure would have no impact on the area’s water.
Glenn Waddington, a former town councilman, said he was in favor of the rental restrictions. “My issue is that things change,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many” owners of large single-family houses, who intended to put down roots, “within a year have their houses on the market for short-term rentals.”
“Opinions can change, the law can change,” Mr. Waddington noted, “and if there is a way that the people who own this property can encumber themselves legally [not to be] an Airbnb, and the town can endorse that into perpetuity, this might be a graceful, eloquent way of getting out of this.”
Mr. Waddington added that Airbnbs are within the board’s power to regulate. “And I don’t know what’s going to happen after this election,” he said.
Councilmen Albert Dickson and Jim Colligan said the use of water by the proposed house should be the board’s primary focus, and not short-term rentals.
The board wrapped up the discussion, but the public hearing on the issue has been kept open.