The Southampton Town Board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, August 13, to consider legislation that would expand the municipality’s existing solar electric systems incentive program to include solar and geothermal heating and cooling systems.
The legislation, proposed by Councilman Chris Nuzzi, would add the installation of geothermal or solar water heating systems to the list of home improvements eligible for rebates under the town’s rebate program. It would also increase the maximum rebate from $2,500 to $3,500 for private home systems and allow for expedited building permit review and fee waivers for subdivisions that employ such energy efficient systems.
“We need to go further to incentivize the installation of green technologies,” Mr. Nuzzi said in a prepared statement released before Tuesday night’s meeting, at which the board unanimously supported his legislation. “The up-front costs of solar energy equipment still remain a costly alternative to fossil fuels, and certain rebates that have made them accessible to consumers over the past several years are slowly drying up.”
Solar and geothermal heating and cooling systems typically cost $30,000 or more to install.
The Town Board held its fourth public hearing on the proposed “sustainability element” update to the town’s Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday, again hearing a chorus of pleas from a familiar group of residents to drop the legislation.
“There’s a lot of great issues in here, I just don’t think they’ve had a chance to be brought to maturity,” said John Kern, a former assistant town attorney. “To have them adopted as part of the comp plan would be hasty.”
Town planners again introduced a litany of edits to the proposed legislation, which presents a host of development and policy strategies to help the region slowly reduce its energy and water usage, and soften the impacts of human development on the surrounding environment, as well as adjust for rising sea levels. The changes included completely dropping some sections that were redundant or associated to hot-button topics for opponents of environmental controls, such as carbon reduction strategies. Others were simply intended to soften some of the legislation’s language, making it clearer that it is meant to be a guidebook of suggestions and recommendations that future town lawmakers could chose to follow or ignore.
Critics said the changes were only semantic, meant to camouflage the bill’s true legislative intentions.
“There’s been a lot of words changed but … most people know that is a very weak way for a board to move away from something there’s been controversy,” said the Reverend Donald Havrilla, leader of the Southampton Full Gospel Church.
The board tried to convince doubters that the changes tend to more steer the legislation toward the use of educational tools to help residents voluntarily adopt environmentally sensitive behaviors, and for the town to provide incentives and support.
But opponents continued to focus on perceived deceptions in the legislation, namely those pertaining to future regulations and costs that the initiative’s recommendations would mean for residents and businesses if imposed.
“Everyone wants Southampton to be sustainable, but nobody wants regulation that is phrased in ‘consider’ and ‘recommend,’” said resident James Boyd. “That leads the pathway to regulation and we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think that is true.”
The criticism and doubts of the board by the naysayers were salted somewhat by the board’s admission on Tuesday that the town has, in fact, maintained its membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), which the board had previously said it had canceled three years ago. The organization, a coalition of cities and towns around the world, has been painted by critics of sustainability initiatives in the country as a tool of the United Nations and an effort to impose international mores on American communities.
“ICLEI is a German governmental representative in this country,” said Maud Pollack, a Hampton Bays resident. “It is not local. It comes out of Germany.”
The Town Board on Tuesday accepted 19.5 acres of open space, much of it running along the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and donated by the developers of the Vintage Vines subdivision, as part of the planning requirements for approval of the residential development.
The donated land forms a mostly narrow corridor running parallel to the turnpike. When the subdivision was being considered, Town Planning Board consultants noted that the land would allow the town to connect existing trails and complete a proposed hiking path linking downtown Bridgehampton to the Long Pond Greenbelt and Sag Harbor Village.
Vintage Vines has been in the planning process for more than five years. It will feature 37 homes on slightly more than 48 acres located west of the turnpike.
The Town Board will face an agenda packed with public hearings at its afternoon meeting on Tuesday, August 13. The agenda now lists 25 public hearings, a record for the board in recent history, Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer said.
The bulk of the hearings concern code enforcement actions and land preservation acquisitions, which rarely draw much comment. But the docket also includes hearings on the Planned Development District proposal for the Canoe Place Inn renovation and condominium development on the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, and Mr. Nuzzi’s proposed amendments to solar rebate programs.
The scheduling of so many hearings on the same date was a combination of coincidence and the need to meet legal timing requirements for notice to residents and deadlines for action by the board.