December 20, 2006
Biz Alliance Pans Biz Study
They called it "grossly inadequate." In a letter read at town hall last Friday, members of the East Hampton Business Alliance excoriated a recently completed study of the business needs in the community.
In keeping with the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan, the town hired high-priced consultant and former town planning director Lisa Liquori to compile the commercial needs study. Alliance members don't appear to feel the taxpayers got their money's worth from the $100-an-hour consultant. In fact, Alliance rep Margaret Turner implied that Liquori did little more than rehash a study undertaken by the Suffolk County Planning Department.
The study fails to adequately look at issues, like the housing crisis and traffic, which have a negative impact on businesses. Also, the study fails to even identify how the community works or the types of businesses existing or needed. "Any study of East Hampton's community's needs must include the businesses that are here, those which East Hampton could reasonably support, and those types of businesses and employees which will be needed in the future," the Alliance letter states.
Supervisor Bill McGintee appeared angered by the letter, his face coloring. He said he disagreed with "about 80%" of the allegations made in the letter. The Comprehensive Plan already includes a section devoted to town demographics, gleaned from the 2000 census. Turner, in an interview, said the data is seven years old. A lot has changed in East Hampton in the past seven years, she added.
On the issue of housing, McGintee defended the town's efforts to provide affordable housing. Coincidentally the board passed a resolution later on Friday that provided housing for nine local families. The town's housing plan is included in the Comp Plan, too, he said. A business plan doesn't need to include a housing plan, the supervisor said.
Finally, McGintee offered an oft-voiced opinion: The town should not bear total responsibility for providing housing for residents. Rather than simply complain, business owners should step up to create housing for their workers, and shoulder their share of the burden.
Turner argued that some business owners do try to build employee housing, but they run afoul of the town's planning process, described in the letter as "the longest, most expensive, and most adversarial permit processes of all South Fork towns and villages." Councilwoman Deb Foster, the board's liaison to planning and zoning, acknowledged the permit process could seem "like Chinese water torture." She reminded that she met with businesspeople to streamline the process early in her tenure. "We can always do better," she said.
Turner reported "very strong frustration" in the business community. Business owners are throwing up their hands and giving up on the notion of fixing old buildings and improving structures because the planning process is so adversarial. Foster asked to meet with Alliance members to discuss the issue further "I want to know what the problems are," she said. McGintee promised to respond formally to the letter in the near future.