Southampton Town will officially begin the process of developing a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, or LWRP, this week, with the first meeting of the steering committee that will help draft a master plan for development along the town’s waterfront.
Though the plan to be drafted conforms to New York State’s intricate LWRP guidelines, town officials have been loath to refer to the undertaking as such, instead dubbing it the Southampton Coastal Program, in an effort to distance the plan from LWRPs that have been met with disappointment and conflict in other townships.
Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming emphasized this week that Southampton’s LWRP would focus on protecting water quality and preserving the natural resources along the town’s hyper-valuable waterfront.
“Most LWRPs are about economic revitalization,” Ms. Fleming said. “This is much more about recognition that our waters are in danger of increasing impairments if we don’t undertake a comprehensive plan to protect them. For us, our economic health is dependent on the health of waters and natural resources.”
The town anticipates the drafting of the LWRP will take two years, accounting for public meetings with interest groups, experts and residents to help steer the details of the plan. The process will be guided by the Urban Harbors Institute, a Massachusetts consulting firm that has handled LWRP-like plans for several Northeast municipalities, Ms. Fleming said. The firm will lead the community outreach, conduct the inventory of the town’s waterfront development and resources, and write the final plan.
Ms. Fleming said the town has estimated that the total cost of developing the LWRP will be $180,000. The state provides up to $100,000 in matching grants to help municipalities cover the costs of developing and drafting LWRP plans.
An LWRP is meant to be a comprehensive plan for residential and commercial development and environmental protection policies along all of a municipality’s waterfront areas, much like the “master plans” most municipalities have in place to guide all development within their boundaries. Once adopted, the plans are meant to guide a more detailed review of waterfront development. They are also meant to give a local municipality the opportunity to develop its own guidelines for development, which outside agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation would have to adhere to.
But critics of the plans—including the Town Trustees in Southold and East Hampton towns, where LWRPs have been in place for several years—have said that LWRPs actually convolute and drag out the review process unnecessarily, and that state agencies often still do not adhere to the local codes.
The Southampton Town Trustees have already declared that their commonly held bay bottoms and freshwater bodies are not to be included in the town’s LWRP plans, asserting that their own review authority will be the only oversight needed for sound management.
“I feel that we already have enough outside jurisdictions watching over us—we don’t need another,” Trustee Ed Warner Jr. said this week. “If we didn’t do a good job, I would understand wanting to look for another resource. But we do a good job already, and have for 300-plus years. We have rules and regulations that we feel regulate the shoreline well. We think getting another agency involved is just going to complicate things.”
But Mr. Warner has also agreed to serve on the town’s steering committee for the LWRP, which will meet for the first time on Thursday, July 28, and said that he can see some very good information and policy work coming out of the LWRP process. The town has said that the LWRP will look at looming issues that will impact the town’s waterfront areas well into the future, like sea-level rise and increasing nitrogen levels in bays, suspected to be coming from residential septic systems in neighborhoods near the shoreline. The inevitability of changing sea levels and the impacts that will have on oceanfront development will be of the utmost importance—and probably controversy—in the drafting of the LWRP, he said.
In addition to the steering committee, made up mostly of Urban Harbors Institute experts and town environmental and development officials, the town has cobbled together an advisory committee of environmental, development, business and community leaders to also work closely on the drafting of the plan and augment the input garnered from public input at future scoping and informational meetings.
Kevin McAllister, president of Peconic Baykeeper, is on the advisory committee and said he is hopeful that the LWRP process will help coordinate town review of a broad spectrum of development that impacts the waterfront. He too pointed to the issue of septic pollution of local bays.
“I think this will definitely benefit resource protection,” he said. “The town overall does a good job, but this will unify the approach to protect our coastal resources. We need to provide a foundation for making decision on a case-by-case basis, a blueprint for the future.”