Hardy Plumbing
February 02, 2011

Articulate Housing Attack

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Illegal housing and accessory apartments continue to dominate public discourse in East Hampton Town. Last Saturday during their monthly weekend work session, members of the town board outlined strategies for attacking the problem of illegal overcrowded housing and the need for affordable housing for residents.

Explaining that she'd never been to a town board meeting before, Carol O'Rourke of Springs said she's concerned about what she's heard and read about the proposed revision to the town's accessory apartment legislation. The part time resident said that for 26 years, she's been held to strict zoning, "not even able to plant a tulip." The notion of blanket grandfathering of multifamily houses in the hamlet worries her.

Responding to the community member, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson offered an overview of recent history that triggered a partisan fomenting of "irresponsible hysteria." An effort to amend the town's "broken" accessory apartment legislation morphed into a rumor that the town board was poised to add housing units for hundreds of people across town and to legalize overcrowded multifamily houses as she fears, especially in Springs.

That's not going to happen, Wilkinson assured.

The attempt to revise the existing legislation "hit a nerve," Councilwoman Theresa Quigley acknowledged. "We hear it. We get it," she said, referencing passionate complaints about illegal overcrowded multifamily homes in Springs her proposal sparked.

On Saturday Quigley and Wilkinson restated a vow to approach the issue comprehensively and methodically. Wilkinson committed to delivering a series of white papers addressing "every aspect" of housing in East Hampton. Quigley, who's taken the lead on the issue, reported plans to provide analysis of such topics as demographics, housing needs, existing units, code enforcement, school enrollments and budgets. Part of the demographics investigation will include a look at the impact of immigration on East Hampton, the supervisor noted. "It is an issue, nobody talks about it," he opined. Quigley reported receiving "many communications" concerning race. "There is an undertone," she said.

Three additional Springs residents who have not been new to the discussion also spoke with board members Saturday. Fred Weinberg said he's heard politicians speak of the "dire need" for affordable housing, but has never seen data to support the statements. If the town can successfully demonstrate a dire need, he said "I'm all for satisfying the need."

A fixture at town board meetings for months, Pat Brabant has been critical of town code enforcement and repeatedly articulated the negative impact illegal housing is having on the hamlet and the Springs School district. This week he gave town board members credit for attacking the problem "in a real way."

"I'm going to give you time," he added, "I think you're trying."

David Buda has been a continued presence at the podium. On Saturday he prompted defensive postures from Quigley, by demanding a copy of her initial accessory apartment proposal. The councilwoman has said several times in recent weeks that there has been so much input since she first circulated the draft, it's been rendered almost moot. At this point it may have "no bearing" on what the town ultimately adopts, she said Saturday. Although she agreed to give Buda the draft, Quigley seemed dismayed that a "piece of paper" designed to be a springboard for discussion has been misrepresented as fact.

If political opponents distort recommendations in draft documents during the early developing stages of a concept, it can stifle creative discussion, Wilkinson opined.


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