July 03, 2013

Dems Kick Off 'Listen Ins'

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From the never ending/never solved problem of overcrowded housing to ideas like prohibiting trucks on the jetty beach at Maidstone Park and even developing the Camp Blue Bay property, audience members offered an earful to candidates Larry Cantwell, Job Potter, and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, as the Democratic slate for East Hampton town board hosted the first of a series of community "Listen Ins."

The forums are designed to give residents a chance to voice concerns and offer solutions, if they desire. Last Wednesday night at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, the trio -- Cantwell is running unopposed for town supervisor and Potter and Burke-Gonzalez join him at the top of the ticket with bids for town board – explained their plan was to listen, then go back to formulate specific platforms.

If there was one recurring theme throughout the evening, which boasted some 60 attendees, it was the sense that Springs is "the stepchild" in East Hampton Town. Speakers repeatedly complained that while the hamlet harbors the largest population, it is always last in line for attention. In fact, it was noted that over the years, town board liaisons to the Springs Citizen Advisory Committee have blown the meetings off just as often as they attended.

Potter, who served on the town board for eight years, retired in 2004, and is stepping up to run again, acknowledged that, because of the housing situation, people are reluctant to buy homes there. "We've got to turn that around," he said.

The board's liaison to land purchases during his earlier stint, Potter said he thinks shifting preservation efforts from the acquisition of large tracts of land to the purchase of small parcels in Springs to create pocket parks may help keep population density down.

Frequent town board critic Carol Buda asked the candidates to explain exactly what they plan to do to deal with the illegal housing problem in Springs. Kathy McCormack said that a group of residents formed to push for a solution, but over time, thanks to the antagonistic response from current town board members "lost faith in their government." Community members feel "nobody is telling the truth," she said.

Potter said the slate recognizes it's a serious problem and commits to "doing as much as we can within the law." Cantwell said the current administration lacks "a will to enforce the single family zoning definition we currently have." Burke-Gonzalez reminded the purpose of the outing was to listen to the community. She said she's still doing her homework.

Speaking of homework, Fred Weinberg brought up the test scandal in Springs School. He confronted Burke-Gonzalez, a long time school board member and board president for two years, asking, in light of the controversy, "How can we have confidence in your judgment?" The candidate insisted the school board and the parents stand behind Principal Eric Casale. She said he was found responsible for just one transgression at his last appointment. "Isn't one transgression enough?" an audience member called out.

A second tense moment broke the generally convivial atmosphere when Alex Sneddon confronted Potter about decisions made during his earlier tenure on the town board (from 1998 to 2005). He rebuked purchases of Keyes Island and the joint acquisition, with Southampton Town, of Poxabogue Golf Center. "I would have a great deal of difficulty voting for you," he said, suggesting the candidate keep his day job.

Potter responded, offering reasons behind each purchase, saying about each, "At the time, I felt it was the right thing to do." Finishing his explanation, Potter said, "That's the best I can do, sir," as a large section of the audience applauded.

Also at the Listen In:

• Hortense Carpentier wondered whether the town recycling center might go back to operating on Wednesdays and if the home exchange section would be resurrected. Cantwell pointed out that the town is still operating under deficit financing, so the new administration would have to take a careful look. He said he'd like to see "Caldor's East" reopened.

• Brad Loewen said he hopes the new board remembers the fishermen and fisheries. The town-appointed fisheries committee was "gutted" under the present administration and should be restored, he said.

• Ira Barocas believes every property taken off the tax rolls through open space acquisitions "raises our taxes." To groans from those assembled, he suggested "a large development" at Camp Blue Bay might add to the tax base. Cantwell reported that studies undertaken going as far back as the 1970s have shown that development actually costs more money than preservation.

• Connie Dondore complained about trucks destroying the beach and blocking the view of the water at Maidstone Beach. She asked the candidates to consult with the town trustees and consider banning parking and driving on the strip near the jetties, at least during the day.

• Ray Hartjen asked hopefuls to look at the Gerard Drive causeway – "It's a mess" – and restore grants to the Springs Library.

• Bruce Nalepinski would like to see the speed limit on Three Mile Harbor Road reduced and suggested future listening tours should offer a bilingual speaker. "One third of our community is Latino; they're not here," he said.

Finally Larry Mayer asked the slate what can be done to shed Springs of its "stepchild" status. Change is going to start, said Cantwell, with a supervisor and town board who believe in planning and zoning, which exist to preserve neighborhoods and natural resources. Emphasizing that there is no single silver bullet, Cantwell promised, "We will do something. We will make a change."

The next "Listen In" will be held in Montauk, at Gurney's on July 29 from 7 to 9 PM.

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