The town’s much ballyhooed “Sustainability Element” amendment to the town Comprehensive Plan received an unexpected kick of dirt at a public hearing on the legislation on Tuesday night from an organized group of residents raising concerns that the plan was tied to a United Nations initiative and an international nonprofit organization that might somehow start dictating laws in Southampton Town if the plan is approved.
“By approving this program you are losing your right to legislate,” Maud Pollock said. “HUD money comes with a lot of strings attached.”
The group, some two dozen people, suggested that the town’s sustainability plan was linked in some way to a 20-year-old U.N. initiative known as Agenda 21, and the broad array of sustainable programs it suggested the world’s nations adopt. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI, was created to assist countries and local municipalities with some of the nuts and bolts of undertaking or designing sustainable policies.
“I am a proponent of a thing called home rule,” resident Scott Lewis told the board. “The reason is we have seen in the past with global initiatives like this we get products like Shoreham nuclear reactors. I’m a proponent of developing our plan locally.”
Seemingly somewhat aghast at the concerns raised by the crowd, town officials labored to explain that the sustainability plan was developed entirely by town officials and residents and relied on no outside or international assistance, funding or direction. Officials acknowledged that the town had become a member of ICLEI several years ago when it was first starting to approach the idea of developing sustainable planning, but said it used the group only as a resource for calculating data on energy consumption.
“This is a town effort and a town effort only,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “Instead of throwing out this Agenda 21, take a look at this and tell us what your concerns about this are. Give us real, substantive and detailed comments on what parts of the plan you would like to have us look at further.”
Town planner Janice Scherer told the board and the audience that the town’s long-term planning team and sustainability committee had taken pains to make this round of comp plan updates flexible and focused on encouragement, rather than regulation, with as much opportunity for public decisions to be made each step of the way.
“The Comp Plan is very specific, in this we’ve taken a more conservative tack: each recommendation is ‘consider’ or ‘facilitate’ … We chose those words carefully,” Ms. Scherer said. “So when we do set an agenda with the Green Committee … you can decide at the time what you’re going to do.”