In making a point about what he sees as the inadequacies of the East Hampton Town Ordinance Enforcement Department at a town board work session on March 20, a Springs illegal-housing activist raised a question that needs an answer: Is the department working to its full potential?
David Buda, who has in the past expressed frustration with local enforcers’ rate of success in dealing with illegally overcrowded housing, made an analogy that suggested the town, for reasons unknown, is failing to seek compliance with certain obvious violations of the law — the proliferation in recent years of banned, lighted signs. He speculated that this could be because the six-person Ordinance Enforcement Department might be, in his words, “understaffed, undervalued, and underpaid.” Politics, too, may play a part, with some members of the town board appearing to take sides with landlords and business owners who benefit from the cheap labor provided by those who have to live in substandard housing.
To make his point that the town was not effectively watching its own streets, Mr. Buda displayed a poster-size printout of photographs of businesses with signs that violate the East Hampton Town prohibition on neon, L.E.D., and other forms of internal illumination. A handful of antique neon signs that were installed before this section of the town code was adopted in 1962 can remain up, Mr. Buda pointed out, but the rest are just plain illegal. This should be obvious to the enforcers, as well as to other town officials who drive by them every day.
Laughable in this context are signs in some shop windows announcing the presence of automatic teller machines, or A.T.M.s. A.T.Ms did not come into widespread use until more than a decade and a half after the town ban on signs with internal illumination was put in place. Lately, inexpensive L.E.D. “open” signs have been popping up across town, too. Mr. Buda documented them in photographs and offered their locations to an impassive town board. (We called Betsy Bambrick, the town’s director of code enforcement, who also heads the town’s Animal Control Department, for a comment but did not get a response.)
Mr. Buda said he had minimal response from anyone in Town Hall about his presentation, although Patrick Gunn, the director of the town’s Division of Public Safety, which oversees the Ordinance Enforcement Department, took a photograph of Mr. Buda’s display board at the meeting.
Illegal signs are the easy part; dealing with less obvious and more serious alleged violations, such as overcrowded houses, can take lots of time and manpower — and the will to do so. Whether because the enforcement staff is overworked or because they know which way the political winds are blowing, the impression is that they have not lived up to their responsibilities. It is time this was corrected.