In their first face-to-face public meeting of the campaign, town supervisor candidates Linda Kabot and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst traded barbs and shared their views on things like development patterns, the environment and town finances at a breakfast gathering hosted by the Southampton Chamber of Commerce last Thursday morning, September 19.
Along with now former candidate Phil Keith, Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Kabot touted their individual approaches to governmental management while seeking to set themselves apart from the other. With both carrying long records in town government, Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Kabot threw out criticisms of each others’ previous management moves and defended their own styles and successes.
“It is important to have respect for other officials and the other Town Board members, not running the town like it is a kingdom,” Ms. Kabot said. “I’m a woman of action. It’s not about sweet talking or giving the runaround or manipulating the facts. My campaign is about honesty and truthfulness.”
Ms. Throne-Holst countered that she has managed the town through a policy of consensus building and bringing the various sides of innumerable issues together to find a middle ground. She said the Town Hall she inherited in 2009 from Ms. Kabot was “run by chaos” and town finances were drowning in overspending and unmanageable debt.
“I restored stability through good management,” she said, touting her pre-politics background in running several not-for-profits where, she said, “you only do more with less.”
Mr. Keith, who was eliminated as a candidate for supervisor on Tuesday when Ms. Kabot was declared the victor in the Conservative Party primary, said that his own management style would be gleaned from his military years, and that public outreach would be a key component of his policy guidance, not political jousting.
“If you want a politician, you don’t want me,” he said, suggesting that the supervisor should hold a public gathering, with coffee and cookies, in their office on Friday afternoons. Mr. Keith acknowledged his own short-lived candidacy—he was recruited to challenge Ms. Kabot in the write-in primary. “Don’t blink or tweet too long—I might not be here.”
When asked how they would spur economic development in the town, Ms. Throne-Holst, who is a registered Independence Party member but has been endorsed by the Democrats in all four of her election campaigns, pointed to her efforts to spur economic activity in Riverside and Flanders through the creation of a economic development task force. That group has been working for two years on a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the Riverside business district and waterfront.
She added that the town needs to be looking for all opportunities to spur development, the driver of the local economy, while being wary of impacts on the environment and the quasi-rural character of local neighborhoods.
“We are dependent on development for jobs in this town, so we need to balance good planning with the need for development,” she said. “But our economy is fundamentally based on our environment and on our water and … we need to be mindful of the fact that we are at a crisis point right now.”
She also nodded to her role in creating the Clean Water Coalition with other supervisors of East End towns.
Ms. Kabot also acknowledged the need for growth to keep the local economy flush, stating that it needs to be carefully fit into the existing framework so that it does not have deleterious impacts on a community’s character. She said that the Republican Party platform, which will be released later this week, will discuss identifying “target sites” that can be developed, redeveloped or rehabilitated in order to drive the growth without contributing to development sprawl.
Some development projects already in the works were also a topic of discussion, in terms of economics and the environment, namely those being sought through the benefit of the Town Board’s zone changing powers and applications for planned development districts, or PDDs. Ms. Kabot said she worries that the Town Board had grown too quick to change area zoning for PDDs without ensuring the benefits demanded in the process are realized.
“When you vary the zoning code you need a trade-off to make sure there’s real benefit for the community,” she said. “It’s critical that you get the benefits without horse-trading.”
Ms. Throne-Holst pointed out that in her first year as supervisor the Town Board overhauled the PDD legislation, creating new steps that brought in earlier input on project proposals from the public and allowed for less financial burden on applicants if their plans are heading for rejection.
She harked to two of the four PDD applications now before the Town Board, the 34-unit apartment complex, known as Sandy Hollow Cove, that the Town Housing Authority wants to build on 2.6 acres in Tuckahoe, and the proposed Maritime PDD in Hampton Bays that seeks to restore the Canoe Place Inn in exchange for allowing a developer to construct 40 townhouses on the eastern side of the Shinnecock Canal. Ms. Throne-Holst said she has been working to negotiate tweaks to both applications that would address the concerns of residents.
“The PDD serves an important function: it allows developers to bring forward a project that doesn’t fit into the comp plan but is worthy of consideration,” she said. “The CPI, that is a transformative project for Hampton Bays … we’re meeting with the developers on a weekly basis.”
Ms. Throne-Holst defended the Sandy Hollow proposal, saying that the town needs to find a way to spread the sort of rental apartments that middle-income residents can afford across the municipality. But she also announced at the debate that she had empaneled an advisory group of affordable housing experts to review the designs and determine if there was a different way to approach it.
With regard to the CPI application, Mr. Keith said he worried the town was being bullied by the developers because of the desire of some residents to see the CPI building saved and refurbished.
“I’m a little concerned the Rechlers are holding the town hostage,” he said “Saying we’re not going to do this, unless you let us do that.”
Ms. Throne-Holst highlighted a very different kind of project that the Town Board approved this past winter: the $26 million sand nourishment project along the oceanfront between Water Mill and Sagaponack, which is being paid for largely by the 125 waterfront property owners within the project reach.
“This $26 million project is a gift to every single one of us in the Town of Southampton,” the supervisor said. “We should do it everywhere we have homeowners who are willing to foot the bill and have the rest of us reap the benefits.”
Ms. Kabot pointed to Ms. Throne-Holst’s use of the word “gift” and noted that she was being repaid for her strident advocacy for the beach nourishment with large donations to her campaign fund from some of the wealthy homeowners who had spearheaded the nourishment project. “Thankfulness on the part of these homeowners is being repaid in the form of campaign money,” Ms. Kabot quipped.
Ms. Kabot also questioned the town’s use of park district funding to cover the town’s portion of the cost, about $1.5 million, and said she did not think the model of the Erosion Control Districts formed in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack to tax homeowners was one that would be used elsewhere for similar beach nourishment work.
Frank Costanza, editor of the Western Edition of The Southampton Press, served as moderator for the event.
Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Kabot will meet in another morning candidates’ forum on Tuesday, October 15, at the Southampton Inn. That event will be hosted by the Southampton Business Alliance.