The Southampton Town Board is scheduled to hold a second public hearing on the town’s sustainable development comprehensive plan, known as “Southampton 400+,” next Tuesday evening, May 28, at 6 p.m.
The sustainability element, as officials are calling the amendment to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, has been described by the committee of residents, consultants and officials who crafted it as a handbook for the town to promote and incorporate energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive approaches to development throughout the town over the next 50 years.
The plan includes some 160 policy and action recommendations for the town to consider, many of them simply harking to existing town policies or laws that promote smart development.
Somewhat to the surprise of town officials, a group of residents blasted the plan at a public hearing last month as a tributary of a 20-year-old United Nations initiative to promote better development planning with environmental sensitivity and energy consciousness, known as Agenda 21. Though the United States has never ratified or adopted Agenda 21 as official policy, in recent years it has been singled out by Tea Party supporters and a number of other political action groups around the country and vilified as an attempt by the international community to dictate policy in the United States.
In the wake of last month’s public hearing, town officials have repeatedly pointed out that the Southampton 400+ plan was crafted entirely by town residents and local consultants hired by the town, using only town funding, and that the recommendations contained in it are only suggestions intended to help future town leaders craft legislation as they see fit.
“This is a policy document—it doesn’t regulate anything,” Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins said this week. “It’s a road map. It’s not like if the town adopts this, all of these recommendations become law. The only way any one of these things happens is to create a new public law for each one—that means a public hearing and the whole process.”
The drafting of the sustainability plan over the last nearly six years was spearheaded by the town’s Green Advisory Committee and long-range planning experts, and was prepared by development consulting firm Perkins + Will.
“It makes sense for the Town of Southampton to be a leader in sustainability,” a letter from the Green Advisory Committee that introduces the plan reads. “As a maritime community with a strong agricultural heritage, and as a world-class resort destination, Southampton is more dependent than most on a quality environment. Above all else, our environment is why people come to live, work, play and invest here. Leadership in sustainability should be integral to the town’s identity and mission.”
Long-term planner Janice Scherer noted that the recommendations, which span from promoting energy efficiency to cultural and economic development, were meant to be juggled, amended, dropped or added to by future advisory committees and town lawmakers as policies, public habits and technology evolve.
The plan focuses on 10 general areas of sustainable policy, including reduction of carbon emissions and energy consumption, promoting green building practices, decreasing waste, improving alternative transportation modes, and bolstering quality of life for residents.
Among specific actions, the plan recommends that the town review its existing energy audit and find ways to reduce the municipal use of energy, at the same time promoting the use of energy-saving retro-fits on private property as well. The plan also suggests that the town consider zoning code amendments that would allow for “commercial-scale” renewable energy productions, like “solar farms.”
Other energy use and pollution reduction recommendations come as part of the Complete Streets Policy, a comprehensive study of the town’s roadways and transportation that is already under way. The study focuses on engineering main arteries for use by other modes of transportation other than private automobiles, including public mass transit, but also bicycles and pedestrians.
The plan urges the town to set a goal of “zero net waste” through a variety of tactics, many of which are already laid out in the Draft Solid Waste Management Plan the town completed in 2011. The plan, for example, recommends promoting large-scale food waste composting.
The entire plan, including all its recommendations, can be viewed at the town’s website, www.southamptontownny.gov.
Ms. Scherer noted that in response to the concerns raised by some residents, Councilwoman Christine Scalera has already instructed that the wording of the individual recommendations be amended slightly, to emphasize that they are only suggesting the Town Board “consider” each action item, rather than act on it.
“What this does is lay out ideas and strategies,” Ms. Scherer said. “Are they the only ones? No. Do we have to do them? No. As time goes on and technology changes, some of these may not be needed, and other stuff may become more relevant. It’s really just saying, ‘Take a look at this.’”