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June 19, 2013

Candidates Hit The Hot Buttons



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By Kitty Merrill

With campaign season getting underway, candidates on both sides of the aisle in East Hampton are lasering in on the hot button topics of storm mitigation and housing.

This week, Larry Cantwell, who's running for supervisor on the Democratic and Independence Party lines, offered a glimpse into his views on storm preparation and disaster recovery.

"When I first announced my candidacy on April 12," he wrote in a statement released last Wednesday. "I spoke specifically about the need for the Town of East Hampton to prepare a Hazard Mitigation and Recovery Plan to better protect our community from the impacts of coastal storms and plan for recovery in case of a catastrophic event caused by a hurricane."

Characterizing Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy as "a wake-up call," Cantwell called upon the community to be proactive and "better plan for ways to prepare for the global changes in climate, the possibility of more frequent storm events, and sea-level rise."

Cantwell announced the creation of a state Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that will provide over $500 million to assist local governments and non-profit organizations and pay 75 percent of the cost to prepare Hazard Mitigation and Recovery Plans.

"I urge the Town Board to submit a grant application to fund the cost of a professional plan employing expert advice to work together with our fire departments, non-for-profit organizations, town personnel, and the community to develop a plan to help protect our town," he wrote, concluding, "I believe this is a tremendous opportunity to identify hazards and areas of vulnerability along our coast so we can take positive action in advance of serious storms and hurricane events in the future. In addition we should be anticipating the potential damage from catastrophic disasters and develop a plan of action for recovery."

A photo taken with long time Mulford Lane, Lazy Point resident Ginny Bennis illustrates just one aspect of storm mitigation and recovery that could be included in the plan. A home on pilings is seen far out into the water. "It was once on dry land," Cantwell pointed out. He believes the pursuit of federal funding to help cover the cost of removing homes that are no longer viable could be part of a Hazard Mitigation and Recovery plan.

There's a "whole list" of items, such as identifying essential infrastructure that is most vulnerable, that could help the town prepare better, he said.

Next week the Democratic candidates will kick off a town wide listening tour in Springs.

When it comes to the hamlet, one of the most-debated issues is illegal, overcrowded houses.Republican and Independence Party candidates for town board incumbent Councilman Dominick Stanzione and Fred Overton offered their take on the topic in a recent release.

"We recognize the Springs community is burdened with too many overcrowded homes, that are unsafe to both tenants and community," the pair wrote.

While other hamlets see a surge in summer renters and young daytrippers who can crowd area beaches and create a nuisance, Springs suffers with unsafe and unhealthy overcrowded housing all-year long.

"We understand housing code enforcement in Springs was not a top priority of the old-time, one-party Town Boards," Stanzione and Overton offered. And while progress in housing code enforcement was made in 2012, more progress must be made, they said. "Now that East Hampton's fiscal ship has been righted, we must address this critical need --- more effective housing code enforcement and smarter residential planning across all of East Hampton," the candidates wrote.

The two provided a trio of statements, outlining their platform

"We believe by working together as a community, in non-partisan fashion, we can enact and enforce effective solutions to unsafe and dangerous overcrowded housing and reverse a decade of decline in Springs.

"We believe independent and non-political leadership offers the best path to responsible and fair progress for safe-housing enforcement and planning for a sustainable, diverse and vibrant community.

"We believe a productive conversation about overcrowded and unsafe housing in East Hampton, especially in Springs, must include the following:

--- Additional code enforcement capability. In addition to the newly hired part-time code enforcement officers and four summer-season officers, we must have additional enforcement capacity laser-focused on housing safety and enforcement in Springs. Effective enforcement of existing law can make a big difference.

--- Increase fines substantially and possibly even property taxes for repeat housing code violators. Landlords must be held responsible.

--- Develop a comprehensive educational and communications program — so that occupancy regulations are more easily understood and common knowledge.

--- Initiate a workable "Rental Registry" law that reasonably protects tenants, property owners and communities.

--- Consider additional occupancy, safety and enforcement regulations, if necessary, providing local courts with needed tools. Several communities on Long Island have addressed similar unsafe housing conditions. Our planning department might prepare a comparative survey of local laws enacted in other nearby communities. We should invite public officials from some of these communities to talk about their specific experience.

--- Support longer-term regional transportation options.

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