The Town Board Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

Thumbing a collective nose at all who came before it

    With Supervisor-elect Larry Cantwell sitting in the audience last Thursday, the Republican majority on the East Hampton Town Board put on one of its most regrettable performances to date, thumbing a collective nose at all who came before it and leaving yet another stink in the punch bowl for the next administration.

    Hot on the heels of what can be read as a stinging repudiation at the polls in Councilman Dominick Stanzione’s coming in last among four town board candidates, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley continued their arrogant practice of slipping controversial matters onto the board’s agenda at the very last minute.

    True to form, and front and center of this display of bad government, was the  majority’s decision to schedule a hearing on a zoning change for an Amagansett parcel at the last meeting of the year — the last of the so-called Wilkinson team’s stormy tenure. From the start, observers have had the sense that the 79-unit condominium project known as 555 Amagansett had an inside line to Town Hall. This all but confirms it.

    First, by a 3-2 vote along party lines, the board set a Dec. 19 hearing on an amendment to the town code that would create a new zoning classification for high-density housing for “senior citizens” — those over 55 who are able to pay Hamptons market rates. Then, by the same vote, the board set a second hearing for the same night on applying the new zoning to the Amagansett parcel.

    The proposed law is very strictly worded, making it seem almost impossible to apply to any other parcels in town of similar size. In the fine print, the developer, who apparently had a heavy hand in writing the proposed law, seems to be trying to block would-be competition. This makes it appear to be prohibited “spot zoning” intended to benefit a single applicant, rather than a generous concession on behalf of older residents.

    This second hearing is not only of questionable legality but totally beyond the pale because the zoning category under which 555 Amagansett would be permitted would not yet exist, and could not until some later date after required filing with the state.

    There will be time in the coming weeks to debate the merits of creating the new zone and plunking it down on a single site in Amagansett. But one point should be stressed: Although some real estate brokers would probably receive commissions from sales, the plan benefits its developers most.

    At the same town board meeting in a similarly split, and antagonistic, vote, the board majority set a hearing on downzoning a Cedar Street parcel and eliminating its restrictive farmland protection. The move, if approved, would allow more houses in an already crowded section of the town over neighbors’ loud and repeated protests.

    All of this would be easier to understand if there were any reason to believe Mr. Wilkinson and his allies were taking money under the table for their votes. Indeed, it is all the more distressing to think they would so violate the public will, bend the law, ignore precedent, and override prior town administrations’ work because of half-baked ideology.

    All that a number of recent developers, nightclub owners, and party promoters have had to do, it seems, is utter a few magic words about benefiting the local economy, and the three outgoing Republicans signed on to whatever was presented. It is a shame that this will be the lasting legacy of a group who took office at a time of legitimate anger over the McGintee-era’s financial debacle and perverted their mandate to serve their own ends and those of their few friends and last-lingering supporters.

    Mr. Cantwell and the new and old board members of both parties who will be sworn in come January will have much work to clean up the mess well before they can turn to the agenda on which they campaigned.