Where to start? That question has to be swirling around as a new East Hampton Town Board majority prepares to take over in the new year. Unfortunately, because many protections were ignored during the Wilkinson years, there will be a lot of work to do just to bring the town back to a regulatory baseline.
The big, marquee property issues will have to be tackled promptly, if attention to other, small-scale legal violations are to have credibility. These include questionable expansions in Montauk at Ruschmeyer’s Inn, the Montauk Beach House, and the Panoramic resort, as well as what goes on at the Dunes, a drug and alcohol rehab center improperly sited on residential property in Northwest Woods. Also on the list should be a close look at a number of restaurants that predate zoning and appear to have expanded illegally or to be operating in defiance of conditional town approvals.
Renewing even-handed and effective enforcement of the town’s land-use and environmental laws must be at the forefront, along with a review of key personnel, including the town’s legal team. On the environment, officials will continue to have to take on over-clearing of natural vegetation, and they are now likely to have greater support from the board for their efforts.
Problems of overcrowded housing, whether by year-round workers or seasonal young professionals, will have to be addressed. Also meriting attention will be the recent rise of online services such as Airbnb, which allow for the de facto conversion of some houses to micro-hotels.
At the center of what we believe is a much-needed push is the East Hampton Town Comprehensive Plan. This document was created after hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work by citizens, consultants, and officials, and it serves as a blueprint for managing the stresses of growth. Summarized, one of its core observations was that change must be aggressively managed to maintain the East Hampton Town that its residents know and love. Seeing to its implementation should be the new town board’s overriding mission.