Tensions escalated between Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and audience members after a group of Springs residents grilled the East Hampton Town Board about the issue of illegally overcrowded single-family homes in Springs on Thursday.
Springs resident Fred Weinberg said other town issues, such as airport noise, were taking precedence over the problems facing Springs residents.
“The airport is on a different level of significance when compared to our lives in Springs when thousands of us here deal everyday all year round with greedy landlords taking advantage of unenforced laws,” he said. “We expect our council people to pay more attention to Springs than to the unproductive arguing of how to run an airport.”
At one point, a “boo” could be heard in the audience, to which Ms. Quigley replied, “Boo yourself. Boo to you for being so disrespectful.” Another audience member scolded the board, saying “You are so rude that it’s unbelievable.” Mr. Wilkinson chimed in, pointing out that the board had been listening to the public “for two hours.”
“You’re getting paid for this,” said Neil Zelenetz, who said he’s lived in Springs for 35 years.
“Trust me, I’m not getting paid enough for this,” responded Mr. Wilkinson.
Mr. Zelenetz then suggested that Mr. Wilkinson should quit.
“Basically, I have,” Mr. Wilkinson said, noting he’s not running for another term. “Basically, I have.”
Some back and forth bickering before Mr. Wilkinson snapped:
“I shouldn’t have entered the race when you were $27 million in the hole,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “When you were contemplating bankruptcy and you had not one idea what to do. Did you clap when I reduced your property taxes by 17 percent?”
At one point, Ms. Quigley got up and left the room after Springs resident David Buda began talking about an ongoing housing code violation issue in Springs, referring to a specific home. Ms. Quigley questioned whether it was appropriate to discuss the matter in public session if it was pending in Town Justice Court.
When she got up to leave, some scattered applause and catcalls could be heard from the audience.
“I’m out of here soon enough,” Ms Quigley told them. She is not running for Town Board again this year either.
Springs residents suggested the Town Board look at new ways to address overcrowding, which many say has led to a lowered quality of life, citing large numbers of cars parked at properties, an unsafe number of residents packed into houses and an explosion in school taxes due to a growing enrollment at Springs School.
Carol Buda said the time to address the issue is “long overdue,” and recommended amending the town code to limit the number of family members who would be permitted to rent rooms. She said currently the code allows someone to rent one room to two people, or two rooms to one person each, but that those restrictions are often ignored. Loring Bolger, chairwoman of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, asked the Town Board to look into instituting a rental registry.
On Monday, Mr. Wilkinson said he disagreed with the notion that Springs issues have been on the Town Board’s back burner. He said nearly half of all CPF acquisitions since 2010 have been in Springs, with an eye toward easing density in the hamlet. He also said Ms. Quigley spearheaded an exhaustive housing study in which the town “analyzed Springs like it had never been analyzed before.” In addition, the town has increased code enforcement in the area, he said.
“The town has focused a lot on Springs,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
The Town Board was expected to resume the discussion on overcrowding at a work session this week.
The Town Board held a public hearing on a proposal to raise landing fees at the airport. The board unanimously voted to increase the fees after the hearing.
The new fee schedule is effective beginning June 1 and would raise projected landing fee revenues at the airport this year from $1,197,500 to $1,269,038, according to the resolution.
Several people spoke on the issue, saying that the board shouldn’t raise the fees without evaluating them in the context of a larger business plan that would ultimately make the airport self-sustaining.
“Aircraft noise generated by the East Hampton Airport creates a quality-of-life tax on the noise affected all over the East End, paid each day and night the year long, including diminished property values,” said Quiet Skies Coalition Executive Director Kathleen Cunningham, reading from a statement. “The tiny fraction of the resident population served by this airport has created disproportionate impacts on quality of life for many thousands of people all over Long Island. QSC seeks, at the very least, to have the cost of operating the airport passed along to those who use it.”
A Southampton Town resident who also addressed the Town Board expressed anger and frustration at a new travel pattern for helicopters that was implemented last summer. Helicopters are now using a route that many feel unfairly targets homes in areas of Southampton Town.
“I would just ask you as respectfully as I can to please get control of your airport, because things are going to get worse,” said John Kirrane of Sag Harbor. “And that’s not a threat, that’s an observation. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that you are threatening our home values and quality of life.”