November 13, 2013

Last Minute Lame Duck Measures 'Stink'

James J Mackin. (click for larger version)
They want to change a property's zone to a zoning designation that doesn't yet exist. But, hey, it's not like town officials wrote the laws making the changes or crafting the new zone.

The applicants' attorney did.

Sparks flew at the dais last Thursday night as members of the outgoing Republican majority on the East Hampton Town Board proposed holding public hearings on the creation of a new Senior Housing Overlay District, followed by a measure that would convey the new overlay district to Putnam Amagansett Farm Holdings.

The new owners of the nearly 24 acres of land formerly owned by the Principi family on Montauk Highway in Amagansett are looking to build a large, uber-high end development of cottages and apartments for well heeled seniors able to shell out up to $1.8 million for a unit.

Both resolutions -- creating the new zoning designation and conveying it to Putnam -- were part of a sheaf of last minute measures presented for approval without prior public discussion.

The amendment to the town zoning code was drafted by the applicant, the developer, to enable a project, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc objected. He said the draft law was submitted to the town attorney's office just that morning and had not been reviewed by the town board. Councilwoman Sylvia Overby also complained that the proposals had yet to be discussed by the town board in a public session.

If community members requested the creation of a new Senior Housing Overlay District zoning designation, that would be one thing, Van Scoyoc continued. "I haven't heard any public outcry for this," he said. In fact, the move would overturn current zoning on the property, which allows for affordable housing. Overby looked askance at the idea of changing the town zoning code "based on somebody else asking for it."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Supervisor Bill Wilkinson snapped. "Intellectually, I don't understand your objection."

The town has drafted many laws, "which were messed up and wrong and filled with errors," Councilwoman Theresa Quigley asserted. "The fact that someone else drafted this, I don't have a problem with it." It isn't relevant to her whether the public asked for the move or not, she said.

Both Quigley and Wilkinson claimed the proposals had been aired in public sessions, demonstrating an apparent lack of understanding of the difference between presentation by an applicant and a discussion amongst elected officials.

The proposals weren't on the agenda posted online for the public to see, Van Scoyoc continued. "The public's hearing about it now," Wilkinson said. He dismissed Overby's mention of the process generally followed for such initiatives. Councilman Dominick Stanzione remained silent throughout the discussion, then voted with fellow Republicans to have the hearings.

Hearings on both proposals are scheduled for December 19. That's this administration's last meeting. If an effort is underway to enable the Putnam project, it's possible the Republican majority will try to push for a vote the very same night as the hearing.

Whether such a move will stand up legally is something Supervisor-elect Larry Cantwell is investigating. "I'm disappointed the board feels the need to upzone properties at the last minute," he said Friday. In addition to the Putnam measure, the GOP majority voted to hold hearings on two additional zone changes. "None of those have my support," Cantwell said.

The majority may vote to adopt the new zoning designation on December 19, but it doesn't become law until it's filed with the state, which can take two to three weeks, creating a timeframe that bleeds into January, when a new majority takes the helm at town hall.

Cantwell said there's "a distinct possibility" he and his Democratic board could repeal the Wilkinson administration's eleventh hour zone changes. "It's troubling that the majority would try to jam these things through," Cantwell offered. "It just stinks."


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