TOWN BOARD: Subdivision Moratorium Passed, Temporary ban on development of properties smaller than 10 acres

Originally published April 08, 2004-By Susan Rosenbaum

The East Hampton Town Board has enacted a temporary ban on developing properties smaller than 10 acres. Board members voted unanimously for the moratorium on Tuesday, although at a public hearing on Friday morning more town residents opposed the moratorium than favored it.
The proposal did bring out supporters, however, who told the board on Friday that the ban will provide needed time to preserve the town's last few undeveloped "jewels," which they said were critical to the quality of life here.

The moratorium will be in effect through Sept. 30, by which time the board has promised to have adopted an updated comprehensive plan. The ban will delay final approval of small subdivisions but planning board review can proceed in the meantime.

Laurie Wiltshire, a Wainscott land planner, was among its opponents. "This community is on the verge of self-

destruction," said Ms. Wiltshire, six of whose clients are trying to subdivide small properties where their family members and middle class workers want to live.

"How long do you want the labor line on Montauk Highway to be?" Ms. Wiltshire asked, referring to the so-called "trade parade" of workers who commute to the East End but cannot afford to live here.

Ms. Wiltshire and others contend that upzoning eliminates affordable smaller lots. She suggested that any hearing to increase legal lot size be held at East Hampton High School, predicting that it "will be the biggest public hearing ever."

During public discussion of the comprehensive plan update in recent years, many residents have called for town planners to limit the number of people who can live in town; one way to do that is to increase the legal residential lot size where possible from one or two acres to as high as five or 10 acres.

"I represent people you abhor," said former Councilwoman Diana Weir, who was defeated in the last election and now represents the Long Island Builders Association.

"We don't abhor anybody," interjected Supervisor Bill McGintee.

"The moratorium means that more property will be unaffordable," Ms. Weir continued. "The lots held back will have little impact on the environment or quality of life."

"You don't deserve another nine months," said Neil Hausig, chairman of the board of East Hampton's Whalebone affordable housing project, who is also a real estate broker.

Stuart Match Suna of East Hampton had another viewpoint. Mr. Suna's property borders Buckskill Farm, which he said should be preserved. He had gathered 82 names on a petition supporting the moratorium and urged board members to "do the right thing" by preserving the town's last 14 workable farm parcels. He called them the "last few jewels in the beautiful necklace of East Hampton history."

But Marvin Hyman, an attorney, charged that Mr. Suna "never sought to preserve one speck of that soil." The East Hampton attorney said that as soon as the moratorium is lifted, "people with no intention to do anything panic and are advised to build, fast. It gets people nervous," he said.

Besides, Mr. Hyman added, the extension of four years' worth of moratoriums creates the "potential for tremendous lawsuits. I don't think you want to leave that legacy to the taxpayers of the town," he told the board. "It's continuing the deprivation of property rights."

Mr. McGintee said the board had indeed sought legal advice about the ban and reported that the opinion was, "No problem."

"I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Warren Munash, who applied three years ago for lot line modifications on his five-acre Green Hollow Road parcel, spent $100,000, endured three legal actions, and is "no nearer" approval.

"You could have bought my land twice," he told the board.

In a brief appearance, Mr. Munash's attorney, William Esseks of the Riverhead and Water Mill firm Esseks, Hefter, and Angel, requested that his client's property be "excluded" from the ban. Mr. Esseks said ominously that "by putting him in the moratorium, you are saying you want to be sued."

Among others who favored the moratorium were Henry Haney, who has been long active in town affairs, Chris Tucci, a contractor who urged the board to take time to "figure out what's needed for the common good, and do it," and Lyda Sue Cunningham of Amagansett.

"It's the rich people from Manhattan who love our rural character and want to change it to what they are living . . . like the lady who wants a second swimming pool on her (Wainscott) property," said Ms. Cunningham.

"I've been living in Amagansett since the 1940s and I'm appalled" at what has been happening, she said. "The moratorium will give the board a brief window to get the comprehensive plan on the table."

Tom Gessler of Montauk objected, however, saying, "The more laws there are in place the more it allows obstacles preventing us from doing a good plan. The public would like to see a plan, good or bad."

"We need a good plan," said Susan Ecker, who chaired the committee that developed the comprehensive plan that East Hampton Village adopted three years ago. "It is not good enough," she said, "to have a mediocre one."