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August 30, 2006

A Law That's Got To Go


Well, we knew it was just a matter of time before the East Hampton Town Board, flush with power, tried to regulate regularity. They've got a draft law that, if passed as is, tells people where they can and can't go to the bathroom.

On Friday the board will hold a public hearing on a proposal geared to policing artist studios. We understand the philosophy behind trying to create the regulations: over the years as homes have changed hands, accessory structures have morphed from legit studios to illegal housing. But, provisions of the proposal go too far. At worst, they could even discourage what's been as time honored a local profession as fishing or farming.

First off, the town claims the right to say who is an artist. The person seeking permission for a studio would have to submit documentation demonstrating a professional commitment, a resume and three references.

A studio for someone who is a mere hobbyist, say a senior citizen who seeks creative expression through painting, or a youngster — a future artist — just learning to sculpt, would be banned under the new law.

History is littered with tales of insurance men and housewives who pursued a dream while toiling at a boring job for years. Consider how long it took before Harry Potter found a publisher. At some point the town has to make a leap of faith and believe it when someone makes a commitment to art.

An even harsher example of government interference can be found in provisions relating to bathroom or kitchen amenities. A coffeemaker would be permitted, but a toilet wouldn't. Now, there's a combination that's fraught with discomfort.

This aspect of the law is a contradiction under the best of circumstances. The town wants only true working artists to have studios. But, how can an artist work all day when there is no relief facility available? If the regs are adopted, the image of an artist directing his posing model to "hold it" takes on an entirely different meaning.

The board needs to back off a little and find that balance Supervisor Bill McGintee is always seeking. The love and practice of fine arts is something worth nurturing, not impeding. Leave it to Code Enforcement to make sure a studio stays a studio by placing the addresses on a registry and allowing routine, surprise inspections.

Easier still, allow toilets but not showers or kitchens. That should eliminate the fear that the studio would house someone illegally.

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