Piecemeal Isn’t What East Hampton Needs

East Hampton’s recently initiated hamlet studies have the makings of disaster

Judging from the Memorial Day weekend crowds, East Hampton Town should adopt a zero-growth strategy. Unfortunately, the approach evident in a new round of official advisory studies is to encourage increased development, with commercial sprawl extended in some cases into predominantly residential areas under a smokescreen of “smart growth.”

East Hampton’s recently initiated hamlet studies, one for each section of town, have the makings of disaster. Instead of taking a macro view of existing development and coming up with overall guidelines for the future, the hamlets seem to be being reviewed in isolation. The net effect could well be to recommend zoning changes that add to commercial activity in some areas, without a clear understanding how they might link together or — what is most important — if the current road, water, power, and emergency systems can handle it all.

While it is difficult to assign responsibility to any single era of elected officials, it is clear that decades of poor foresight and outright, if not deliberate, mistakes have created the current untenable conditions. Some bad decisions include then-Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s watering down of multiple occupancy enforcement, particularly in Springs, which helped create the school overcrowding crisis the district now faces. Later, financial mismanagement overwhelmed Town Hall during the Supervisor Bill McGintee years. And then, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and a mostly like-minded town board basically gave Montauk away, implying that to seek peace and quiet was to be against “young people having fun.”

As we have been saying for a few weeks now, development pressures are coming so fast that town officials may find it so hard to keep up that a commercial moratorium is the only choice. With massive sums of corporate money flowing into town, particularly in Montauk, we appear poised to see even more visitors in coming summer seasons. 

Think about one fact: According to a county estimate, the overnight population of Montauk alone can leap from 3,400 to 27,000 on a peak weekend. 

That number places burdens on services and makes year-round residents feel like strangers in their own community. If that isn’t a definition of governmental failure, we don’t know what is. All money is not necessarily the same, and any of it that diminishes our quality of life should be discouraged. To the extent possible, this town should cease being an eager playground for Wall Street vanities and a willing partner in cold, corporate despoliations.

The time to get on top of it is nearly past. Chipping away around the edges with well-intended but inappropriate hamlet studies will not get the job done by any stretch of the imagination. Zero-growth, or figuring out how to actually turn back the clock through the aggressive use of the community preservation fund to buy and neutralize as many properties as possible, must be a key part of any effort to, as the town Democrats used to say, save what’s left.