Connections: Boomtown

Deja vu all over again?

   East Hampton had a major development boom in the 1980s. At least in developers’ dreams: A 400-unit subdivision was planned for Montauk’s Hither Woods, 64 oceanfront house lots were to be carved from Shadmoor in Montauk, the 845-acre Grace Estate in Northwest was to become a community modeled on Hilton Head, S.C., with clustered and single-family houses and a nine-hole golf course, and Barcelona Neck, between Northwest Woods and Sag Harbor, was on the block.
    And what did the East Hampton Town Board at the time do? In 1982, it abolished the Town Planning Department. And what did voters do? They turned the board out of office and voted for open space. Democrats took over Town Hall in 1984, re-established the Planning Department, and worked with the county and state to buy and turn much of this acreage into parkland.
    Today, 30 years later, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quig­ley have proposed putting all the town agencies and quasi-judicial boards under one so-called “environmental” umbrella. Deja vu all over again? The proposed change would eviscerate the Planning Department, whose staff evaluates every application before the decision-making planning and zoning boards. The rationale given is simple: to make government efficient.
    Remembering what happened in the ’80s, however, it may be that because the East End has remained relatively unscathed by the economic downturn, similar development pressure has made itself heard among the powers that be.
    Under the proposal, the Planning Department would be assigned to long-range planning, This sounds legitimate, until you stop to think about it. In order for such long-range town planning to be in any way effective, it would have to lead to the revision of the comprehensive plan after public hearings and adoption of new regulations.
    If Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Quigley, and their supporters believe East Hampton has gone overboard in protecting the environment and would benefit from a broader tax base — along with a larger population and the housing, services, infrastructure, and schools that would require — they should say so out loud and call for another blueprint for the future, including strategies for reaching new goals and cost estimates. Otherwise, their suggested reorganization does no more than put the cart before the horse.