The Southampton Town Board last week adopted the first broad update to the town’s Comprehensive Plan in more than a decade, approving the progressive and much-debated “sustainability element.”
With little fanfare, and without the large crowds that public hearings on the sustainability update had drawn over the last several months, the board approved the update by a unanimous vote of 4-0. Councilman Jim Malone was absent from the meeting.
The update introduces to the town’s all-encompassing development and management blueprint a long list of recommendations for improving environmental sensitivity, reducing energy use and lessening impacts on precious natural resources. In more than 160 individual recommendations, the sustainability plan recommendations focus on issues, both current and future, of water quality, economic development, land use, transportation, quality of life, waste disposal, energy efficient building, environmental stewardship and broadening public education on environmental concerns.
“These categories were developed with community input at public workshops, almost four years ago now,” said Anne Reisman, a member of the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Committee, which spearheaded the development of the plan with town planning officials. “We discovered that the community wanted to focus not only on specific [recommendations] but also on broad topics that look at how … Southampton will look in the future.”
Among the recommendations are strategies for reducing water usage, lessening the use of fertilizers, encouraging smart-growth development around hamlet centers to reduce traffic and fuel usage, and broadening the use of energy-efficient construction materials and designs.
Town Board members applauded the Green Committee and town planning staff for their work on the first drafts of the report and the numerous amendments made during the eight-month public hearing process, which saw sometimes large crowds of doubters blast the plan as dictatorial and an abandonment of home rule to national and international sustainability movements. Members of the committee, in turn, thanked the Town Board for their work in retooling the plan.
“You’ve been very patient with this process and very engaged with this process, and without your work we wouldn’t have the document we have today,” Green Committee Co-Chairman Scott Carlin said. “Throughout, you all held to the perspective of the diversity that brings Southampton together … and developed something that met the needs of a full representation of Southampton.”
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst thanked, in particular, Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who worked with planning staff after each of six public hearings to tweak language in many aspects of the plan and drop some of the more controversial or ill-conceived recommendations.
It was Ms. Scalera’s “hard work she did bridging the gap with some of the public and working on some of the language that really brought it to where we were all able to wrap our arms around it,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.
Touted by board members and officials in the run-up to the public hearings as a long-overdue modernization of the Comprehensive Plan modeled on similar plans adopted by many other states, countries and corporations, officials were caught off-guard when the first public comment brought a packed house of critics to the plan. Opponents unleashed a wide range of criticisms, from critiques of specific recommendations they saw as overtly dictatorial to broad-based distrust of the plan as a vehicle for ceding local regulatory control to the United Nations and international sustainability organizations.
Wading through criticisms that ranged from sound to absurd, Ms. Scalera and town planning officials tinkered with wording in almost every branch of the sustainability update, dialing back language that smacked of mandates and eliminating aspects that seemed unnecessarily restrictive. As they did, slowly, the crowds of opposition dwindled.
“We went through six public hearings and incorporated that information back into the plan,” Ms. Reisman said. “Now we have a platform that will show how we can go together into the future and help Southampton be sustainable.”