The Bell Tolls, But for Whom?

    Ian Calder-Piedmonte called it like it is at a recent meeting of the East Hampton Town Planning Board, of which he is a member, when it considered yet again a massive Amagansett housing complex. In response to an apparent, and repeated, threat by the project’s Connecticut-based developer to put up affordable workforce housing there, Mr. Calder Piedmonte said, “I’m not so sure that we should be afraid of affordable housing.”

    The site in question is a 23-plus-acre group of parcels just east of the Amagansett I.G.A. Its new owner envisions a 79-unit village of sorts, with restrictions so that only people of a certain age could buy in. Prices would range from apartments at $550,000 to more than a $1 million apiece for two-story, stand-alone houses. A big impediment stands in the way, however.

    Nowhere in the East Hampton Town Code is there accommodation for such a plan. Moreover, the town comprehensive plan, adopted into law in 2005, specifically forbids this level of intensive development for the property. In order to proceed, the project’s backers would have to get the town board to establish an entirely new zoning category. Doing so with a single proposal in mind would be illegal spot-zoning.

    While existing land-use categories can, and sometimes should, be amended due to changing conditions in a community, doing so in opposition to the framework laid down in a comprehensive plan is expressly prohibited. Given this, it is, frankly, ridiculous that town officials, including planning board members, have wasted any time on the 555 Montauk Highway II application at all. Several planning board members told the developer just that during the Sept. 11 meeting at which Mr. Calder-Piedmonte spoke. Their message was that the discussion was moot until the town board weighs in. But the buck cannot stop there.

    If nothing else, the idea of a new, high-end housing zone exclusively for wealthy older residents should be debated by the five candidates for East Hampton Town Board. It is too great a question to entrust the embittered, lame-duck Wilkinson majority with, we are afraid. Weakening the comprehensive plan to allow for greater residential density along the town’s sole major roadway is serious business and requires maximum public involvement. Nov. 5’s voting could be seen as a referendum on the concept if concerns about its legality could even be resolved by then and the question became a campaign issue.

    Perhaps the developer’s hidden agenda in asking for pie-in-the-sky and an extreme favor from the town board is to build public pressure for the land’s purchase using money from the community preservation fund. Otherwise, unless he thought the fix was in, why would he seek something both prohibited under current zoning and at odds with the comprehensive plan?

    If there is one thing almost everyone here agrees on, it is that East Hampton needs more decent housing for its working people to live in and raise their families. What it does not need is more luxury development. Town officials should call the developer’s bluff. The worst that could happen is that there would be affordable housing there, and, as Mr. Calder-Piedmonte essentially said, how bad would that be?