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Focus on accessory dwellings for affordable housing

The Community Housing Board  (CHB) got some heavy-lifting assistance in its efforts March 25 from an experienced architect on the Island, offering assistance in designing affordable housing units as accessories to existing houses.

Michael Shatken, founding partner in KSS Architects in Princeton, N.J., and a Shelter Island resident, brings experience in city planning and designing campus housing. Mr. Shatken also designs residential houses on the Island. He was recommended by Jane Roberts, the clerk of the CHB.

The architect started by noting there are challenges the Board faces in an overheated real estate market and the pressures on land prices and construction costs. But he outlined the idea of accessory dwellings. The CHB has considered the idea along with other options to build rental units and reasonably priced sale houses on lands owned by the town.

Accessory dwelling units could be added on many lots and could serve as rentals to relatives, friends or others in the community seeking affordable housing, Mr. Shatken said.

The rental units wouldn’t be used as short-term units, but would accommodate year-round occupancy and, he suggested, the town could offer tax abatements to those people interested in having the units on their lots.

Units could be attached to the main structure as “carve outs” or as stand-alone structures, he said, noting there are already a number of such units on properties, including structures over garages.

The advantages could:

• Alleviate parking lots that could be necessary to accommodate a building with several rentals.

• Alleviate the need for separate septic systems if existing systems could accommodate both main and accessory structures.

• Provide the potential for affordability.

He pointed out that negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods would be essentially non-existent.

The property owners could not only benefit from a cut in taxes, but get income from tenants and increase the value of their property. A property owner could, of course, opt out of the program at any time, but once the accessory structure was created, it could not be sold separately from the main house.

“It’s not a sweeping change from existing land use,” Mr. Shatken said.

Plans call for Councilman Mike Bebon, chairman of the CHB, to meet with Mr. Shatken and Matt Sherman of Sherman Engineering to further explore the idea. Mr. Sherman has been helping to identify building envelopes on two town-owned properties — one at the site of the former highway barn near the Shelter Island Historical Society and the other on Manwaring Road.

The Manwaring Road property could potentially accommodate a main house and an accessory rental. Current thoughts about the highway barn site are for one unit that would look like a house from outside, but contain four apartments. The site needs to be surveyed with an eye to possible wetlands issues, but it could possibly accommodate more than one house, Mr. Bebon said.

The town-owned Manwaring site could accommodate a house sold within affordable limits and an accessory unit on the land. Plans currently call for ownership of the lot to stay with the town, while the purchaser would own the house and accessory structure used for a rental. But the town doesn’t want to function as a landlord or property manager. Instead, a request for proposals would be advertised for a contractor to build and mange the sale and/or rentals through construction and ongoing management. The contractor would be asked to sign a long-term contract with the town to lease the site and construct units within Housing and Urban Development guidelines for affordables.

Another aspect of construction being examined is whether septic transfer of development rights (TDRs) could be stripped from land preserved by the town using Community Preservation Funds and applied to sites where affordables are created.

As land acquisitions continue to be preserved, it may make sense to bank those septic rights, even though Shelter Island doesn’t currently qualify to use them. A requirement for use of the rights ties it to the availability of a public water system, which leaves out much of Shelter Island.

The town’s Water Advisory Committee is talking to the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), not with any immediate intention to bring in SCWA water, but regarding installation of infrastructure that could someday be necessary on an Island that already has sections hard-pressed to provide reliable, potable water on a consistent basis.

Other East End municipalities typically do bank these septic transfer rights for use in providing affordables.

Dering Harbor connects to SCWA, but because it’s a separate governmental unit, it would not be affected by any agreements or regulations the town puts in place.

Mr. Bebon is working with Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. and Community Preservation Fund Chairman Gordon Gooding on the investigation of how TDRs might assist the town in development of affordable sites.

The other step the CHB plans is contacting those on its registry interested in affordable houses to determine whether the need is more for rentals or purchases.

The registry list is small, but Mr. Bebon believes once he can get pictures of the types of structures the board has in mind, there won’t be resistance to the concept.

Mr. Bebon said he suspects there are more people looking for affordables now than names on the list because many people resist listing their interest, unsure if any housing will be developed. He estimates that if 20 units of affordable were available, there would be takers. It would also help get other registrants on the list once they saw that affordables were being provided.