October 11, 2006

At Odds With Town Initiatives

In an administration marked by unanimity of votes, last Friday was an anomaly. Twice East Hampton Town Board members expressed dissent as long discussed issues were brought to the dais. Councilwoman Pat Mansir voiced opposition to the town's new "smart lighting" legislation, and Brad Loewen said nay to the notion of banning body gripping animal traps.

The latter issue gained island-wide attention following the death of a dog last winter. Zephyr was crushed in a baited trap left in a nature preserve in Sag Harbor. In the ensuing months, both Suffolk County and Southampton Town adopted legislation banning what are known as body gripping traps on public land. On Friday, East Hampton lawmakers voted to hold a public hearing on a similar ban. Loewen said he wouldn't even support having a hearing.

"I have been defending the ability of our citizens to use our beaches and parks and own lands in this manner by arguing that it's a tradition," the councilman said. "In my mind I can't deny that, if it's not a tradition, it is certainly a privilege and a freedom we've had in this town forever." Loewen opined the town has been asked to restrict trapping because some people find it distasteful. "Some people out there wish to impose their sensibilities as a benchmark for this community," he continued. "I will vote no . . . I am very unhappy about hearing a law that will restrict any freedom we have."

The majority of the board, however, did vote in favor of hosting a public hearing on the idea. It will be held October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at town hall.

Opposition to regulating former freedoms was also a theme in Mansir's dissenting vote. Overruled by the majority, Mansir nonetheless weighed in against the towns "smart lighting" legislation, which sets standards for residential and commercial lighting. Just as some laws are archaic, the councilwoman said, "This law's time has not come." While she emphasized that she respects the amount of time and work that went into crafting the bill, Mansir said, "I cannot vote at this time to restrict the kind of lights our citizens have in their yards."

Mansir and Loewen were not the only people in attendance last week at odds with town initiatives. Two representatives from the artist community were on hand to witness the adoption of the town's new zoning code amendments relating to artists' studios. While neither spoke, after the bill was adopted, Ellen Dooley, vice president of the Artists Alliance of East Hampton, distributed a statement to the press. Dooley complained that while board members vowed to include the Alliance in any revisions to the law during a public hearing last month, "The Artists Alliance was not invited, nor included, nor given notice of this code going forward for adoption into law until this morning."

"That's not true," Councilwoman Deb Foster told The Independent on Friday. Foster was not present for proceedings earlier in the day, but spoke in a telephone interview. She said she'd spoken with Alliance president Tom Steele at least four times since the hearing. The Alliance offered eight points of contention with the proposal. According to Foster, "We included all of their concerns except two." The board remained firm about prohibiting toilets and most kitchen appliances.

The prohibition may not last forever, Foster said. "The dialogue is going to continue, after we see if this law does halt the misuse of artists' studios, and give it a chance to work. I may bring it up again this summer. If there are no further abuses I will suggest we offer more amenities."

The law was "rather spartan" when first adopted back in 1985, Foster reminded. The goal was to prevent studios from becoming illegal second dwellings on residential properties. The law fell short of meeting the goal, and the town board this year crafted more stringent revisions. A hearing on the proposal recently drew many speakers from the artists' community, most of who urged the town to allow them to have bathrooms in their studios. "What I was feeling from them," Foster said, "was a sense that they are not appreciated and that we don't trust them. That is far, far from the truth." Still, the adopted measure continues to prohibit toilets.

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