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Housing for the Holidays: Families Move Into Homes Built by Business Alliance

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Thanksgiving came early this year for two homeowners and two tenants thanks to the cooperation of several Southampton business owners, the Long Island Housing Partnership and local municipalities, who in a cooperative effort completed an affordable housing project on Merchant’s Path in Sapaponack just in time for the holidays.

On Tuesday, November 23 the Southampton Business Alliance Housing Initiative Corporation (SBAHIC) held a ribbon cutting ceremony at Sagaponack Woods, the Southampton Business Alliance’s first workforce housing project. The moment was the culmination of several years work by business alliance members, who, in 2004, challenged themselves to take a closer look at affordable housing efforts in Southampton.

When the membership realized little was happening to address the need for affordable and workforce housing within the town, Southampton Business Alliance President Rich Warren said the alliance decided to take matters into its own hands. The group took on a mission similar to Habitat for Humanity, and created its own organization to develop workforce housing within Southampton.

“We just didn’t see a significant enough effort being made by the town to create these types of housing opportunities for local residents,” said Warren. “So we, the business alliance, funded the creation of a separate organization, the Southampton Business Alliance Housing Initiative Corporation, whose purpose is to create affordable housing opportunities.”

Warren said within the business alliance, it was clear this was a critical issue in the town, and a number of members agreed to roll up their sleeves and address the issue head-on.

“We reached out to individuals who can provide goods, services, land, expertise, money and support — people who are committed to giving back to our town,” said Warren. “This wasn’t about making money — it’s about giving back and helping others in our community.”

In 2008, the business alliance established the not-for-profit, now led by Anthony Panza, owner of Turtle Pond Builders in Southampton.

“He did the yeoman’s work to get these structures built on Merchant’s Path, coordinating the construction contracts and supervising the construction,” said Warren. “He deserves a lot of credit for the success of this project.”

Warren added that Diana Weir, an SBAHIC board member and executive vice president of the Long Island Housing Partnership, assisted with the lottery for the homes, which was held last month in Southampton Village Hall, as well as mortgage counseling for the new owners.

“She was a really big help in guiding us through our first project,” said Warren.

Homeowners were selected through a strict application and screening process administered by the Long Island Housing Partnership, a not-for-profit housing developer that also provides Long Island residents and municipalities with resources to aid in the creation of workforce housing.

Sagaponack Woods consists of two energy efficient homes each with an accessory apartment on Merchants Path, east of Sagg Road. The Southampton Town Board gave the land to the SBAHIC in 2008. Two families were selected as owners of the properties and hold a mortgage. They will be responsible for renting the accessory units under affordable housing guidelines.

Members of the business alliance did all permitting and design work for the development gratis, a testament, said Warren, to the business community’s commitment to affordable housing development.

Fred Stelle Architects donated their service in the design of the homes, with Squires, Holden, Weisenbacher & Smith creating surveys of the property during the approval process. Inter-Science Research Associates, Warren’s own company, donated planning, design and permitting services, with attorneys John Bennett and James Hulme offering legal expertise. James Zizzi, the first president of the SBAHIC donated both time and money to get the project off the ground in its infancy, said Warren, and engineer Joseph Baier helped shepherd the project through the county health department’s permitting process. The county, he added, waived all health department fees in support of the project.

“This unprecedented cooperation between town officials and the generous members of the Southampton Business Alliance proves that workforce housing can be created efficiently, economically and expediently,” said Panza.

“It’s a beginning,” said Warren. “We’re soon to start work on our next project on Carter Avenue in Hampton Bays.”

That project, said Warren, is currently in the permitting process and will provide one family with a home on property donated by Suffolk County. He added the SBAHIC hopes to create small affordable housing developments across Southampton Town and has been looking at another project in Westhampton, which would require re-zoning by the town, but if accomplished could result in the creation of 10 workforce housing homes.

“This is about lots of volunteerism and a lot of energy,” said Warren.