The Southampton Town Board unseated two veteran members of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night, replacing them with newcomers as part of a move designed to bring more political balance to the regulatory board—and possibly hinting at a new era of political compromise on the board.
Last week, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, speaking for the board, proposed appointing new members to the ZBA rather than reappointing Ann Nowak and David Reilly—both Republican Party members—to four-year terms. She did propose reappointing Brian Desesa, a Conservative, to another term, however.
On Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to appoint Laura Stephenson, an aide to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., to the ZBA and, by a 4-0 vote, to appoint Helen Burgess. Ms. Throne-Holst abstained from the vote on Ms. Burgess, whom she described as “family and a very dear friend.”
Ms. Burgess is a registered Democrat, while Ms. Stephenson is a member of the Independence Party, like Mr. Thiele and Ms. Throne-Holst.
Ms. Throne-Holst said the replacement of Ms. Nowak and Mr. Reilly with two new members would bring better “balance” to the ZBA. Prior to this week, five of the seven members of the ZBA had been members of the Republican Party; the remaining seats had been filled by just one Democrat and one Conservative.
Ms. Stephenson’s appointment came as a nearly last-minute substitution. Last week, Ms. Throne-Holst had proposed appointing another woman, Melissa Sidor, to the board, but she removed herself from consideration early this week.
Joining Mr. Desesa, Ms. Burgess and Ms. Stephenson on the board are Democrat Adam Grossman and Republicans Herb Phillips, Keith Tuthill and Denise O’Brien. Mr. Phillips was reappointed as chairman. Three Republicans, two Democrats, one Conservative and one Independence Party member now sit on the ZBA.
“We wanted to give some others a chance to serve, and one of these members has been on the board for many, many years, and the other serves on another board also,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, referring to Ms. Nowak, who had served on the ZBA for 20 years, and Mr. Reilly, who still sits on the town’s Assessment Review Board. “And to the extent that the public welcomes some political balance on these boards as well, that seemed fair as well.”
In years past, the appointments to the town’s regulatory boards had been subject to battles along party lines. Ms. Lofaro’s and Mr. Grossman’s appointments are the lingering signs of the last time the Democrats held the majority, in 2003. But on Tuesday, with the removal of Ms. Nowak and Mr. Reilly—but only them—the board appeared to have settled on a cooperative approach to the appointments, with both sides of aisle making concessions to the other.
The two appointments were the only unseatings of current board members proposed by the board since the caucus of Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Independence Party members Ms. Throne-Holst and newly elected Councilman Brad Bender secured the majority on the Town Board.
Neither Stan Glinka nor Christine Scalera, the two Republican board members, offered resolutions to reappoint Ms. Nowak or Mr. Reilly for consideration, nor did they challenge any of the other appointments offered by Ms. Throne-Holst. Ms. Scalera had hinted earlier this week that Ms. Throne-Holst’s proposed appointments were supported by a “general consensus.”
On the other hand, the majority did not unseat other Republicans who some of those in Democratic circles likely would have preferred to see removed as well.
The consensus was not unanimous, however, and the new majority saw its first split Tuesday night.
Ms. Fleming voted against the reappointment of Mr. Desesa to the ZBA. His appointment was approved, 3-1, with Ms. Scalera abstaining.
Ms. Fleming also split from her caucus and the rest of the board on the reappointment of John Zuccarelli to the Town Planning Board. Mr. Zuccarelli was reappointed by a 4-1 vote and will serve another four-year term.
The board unanimously approve the appointment of Cathie Gandel to fill the seat of Lawrence Toler, who is stepping down from the Planning Board, as well as the reappointments of Planning Board members Jacqui Lofaro and Phil Keith. Mr. Keith is a columnist for The Press.
The board filled the vacated Conservation Board seat left by Scott Horowitz, who won election to the Town Trustees in the fall, by appointing John Bouvier, who also ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for a Trustees seat last fall. His appointment was supported unanimously, and he will serve a two-year term. Current members Harry Ludlow and Tom Rickenbach also were unanimously reappointed.