After six hearings in as many months, the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday closed public discussion on legislation to update the town’s Comprehensive Plan with an array of progressive, environmentally and resource-sensitive policy recommendations referred to by town planners as a “sustainability element.”
Board members applauded Planning Department officials for their hard work in amending the plan as the marathon public hearings unfolded. Critiques of the recommendations, largely applauded by environmentalists and planning experts, covered a broad spectrum: from worries about impacts on density in hamlets and small-business growth, to more outside-the-box concerns about government control, United Nations influences in local policy, and conspiracy theories about the motivations of the sustainability advocates in general.
While the parade of opponents to the plan dwindled over the months and the cries of outrage died off, critics still raised concerns at the final hearing on Tuesday, focusing primarily on underlying doubts about the foundations of sustainability policies. Hampton Bays resident Tom Mulrooney, one of the most vocal critics throughout, said he would still prefer to have seen the drafters of the plan look more closely at the related costs of some of the policy recommendations and amendments.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, as town officials had done repeatedly during the half dozen hearings, pointed out that each recommendation in the legislation would require its own individual consideration, and financial analysis, by the Town Board before it could be implemented.
“I understand that,” Mr. Mulrooney said. “But I don’t necessarily agree with it.”
Another of the regular critics, Maud Pollock of Hampton Bays, said she still harbored suspicion that a lot of the policies contained in the study were motivated not by concern for the environment but by the potential for financial gain. “There’s a lot of money involved,” she said. “A lot of people who are interested in imposing their stuff on us, including smart meters—those are not environmentalists. They do not care about us. They care about the money they are going to make.”
Dubbed “Southampton 400+” by the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Committee and town planners who drafted the wide-ranging analysis of town policy, the plan is a catalog of policy recommendations and public education initiatives intended to reduce the town’s burden on natural resources, lessen its imprint on the environment, and encourage energy and cost-saving efficiencies in both the public and private realms.
Members of the committee that helped draft the plan thanked the Town Board for the long hours of listening to the public and tweaking the plan incrementally to satisfy critics without stripping the critical core intentions of the plan.
Dieter von Lehsten, the committee’s co-chairman, thanked members for shepherding the plan through a public hearing process that, at times, strayed into the farcical.
“I would like to thank you for your patience in listening to arguments from the ridiculous to the sublime, to the sensible to the stupid,” he said. “You listened to it all with great patience. It is democracy and free speech at its best, and we look forward to having this as a good part of the town Comprehensive Plan.”
The board could vote to amend the document to include the sustainability element as early as next month.
The town on Tuesday also held a public hearing on its consideration of purchasing the Neptune Beach Club property on Dune Road in Hampton Bays with Community Preservation Fund money.
The 2.4-acre oceanfront parcel is home to the notorious bar and nightclub, which has been a source of complaints and crime for decades. Town officials and the club’s owners have reached a potential agreement for the town to purchase the property for $3.2 million and the money would come from its CPF, which draws its revenue from a 2-percent tax on all real estate sales.
“It’s a wonderful tool that we have—the CPF,” said Donna Lanzetta, who manages a private beach club nearby and is the president of the East Quogue Chamber of Commerce. “The closure of Neptune will improve the area of Dune Road and our entire community.”
Ms. Lanzetta said she hopes that, if the sale goes through, the town would allow some sort of commercial business, possibly a restaurant, to operate on the site.
The town left the public hearing open on the matter until next month.
After settling a lawsuit filed by opponents of gay marriage, the town has removed signs in Town Hall that declared the building a “bias free zone,” which were cited in barring a protest of the town’s first same-sex wedding in 2011. That move led to a lawsuit filed by the protesters, who said their First Amendment rights were violated.
The signs will be replaced with new, reworded ones, though the exact wording of the new signs is not known yet and will have to be approved by the town attorney’s office. The resolution approved Tuesday by the board and calling for the replacement signs said they should “encourage civility” at town facilities.