With a new year and a primary concern — the proposed 555 Amagansett senior citizens housing development — seemingly behind them, members of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee spent the first meeting of 2014 briefing their new liaison to the East Hampton Town Board, Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
Mr. Cantwell, an Amagansett native, has succeeded Sylvia Overby, who moved to East Hampton’s citizens committee. With a lighter attendance than at the last several meetings, the committee’s chairman and members brought Mr. Cantwell up to date on their hopes and concerns.
Mr. Cantwell recounted his roots in the hamlet and demonstrated his familiarity with many of the committee’s concerns. “It’s important to hear directly from you,” he told the gathering, “to be part of the conversation to get things done.”
Issues of concern to the committee are primarily of the quality-of-life variety, and topics raised included crowds and drinking at Indian Wells Beach, share houses, litter, taxi legislation, and the code enforcement that residents would like to see applied to each.
Mr. Cantwell noted “some progress and improvements” made at the popular beach last year, where a manned booth at the parking lot’s entrance restricted vehicle access. “I have some of my own ideas that may be helpful,” he said, adding that he has asked his planning staff to gather surveys and aerial depictions to “see if physical adjustments can be made to improve circulation and parking.” There are limits to actions the town can take, he said, but it is “something we should try to look at before summer.”
Mr. Cantwell, who served as the East Hampton Village administrator for 31 years until his retirement last summer, said he is “very concerned about the size of crowds and drinking behavior” at Indian Wells Beach and, echoing discussion at previous committee meetings, proposed “a discussion about whether or not alcohol should be consumed at a public beach within a certain distance of lifeguarded areas, for example. Such a proposal would have to be looked at on a townwide basis.”
On village beaches, he said, “We banned consumption quite a few years ago.” He said that he was not suggesting the town enact such a ban, “but that did become an effective way to control under-age drinking, for example, and other activities that were interfering with other people’s peaceful enjoyment of a public beach.”
Share house overcrowding “is definitely high on our list,” Kieran Brew, the committee’s chairman, told Mr. Cantwell. Members and guests alike, he said, have reported frequent disturbance from all-night parties with their attendant noise and traffic. “We feel like code enforcement isn’t necessarily aligned with violations in terms of time — being out there when violations happen,” Mr. Brew said. Share houses, he said, “seem to be one of the hot-button problems, something we’d really like to see some resolution on.”
Code enforcement, Mr. Cantwell said, is “a difficult area,” and involves addressing issues of concern to the community, the presence of enforcement officers at the time of a violation, prosecution in court, and “judges willing to step up to the plate and do it.” The town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department, he said, “is essentially five people. Think about what’s going on here 24 hours a day, especially in summer. It’s difficult to conceive those five people are going to be able to control everything.”
John Broderick of the committee told Mr. Cantwell that he felt the taxi legislation enacted last year was a positive step. “But it’s an evolution. . . . Obviously, a problem is happening if we had to have legislation.” Mr. Broderick, who lives on Oak Lane, complained about taxis speeding on his street as they bypass Route 27 on the way to East Hampton Village. “I’ve seen UpIsland [taxi drivers] sleeping in their cars at the train station,” he added.
Mr. Cantwell said the town board is looking at existing legislation pertaining to taxis, as well as to noise and mass assembly. “Each board member agreed to accept responsibility to work with town attorneys and citizens groups to see if any improvements can be made in those laws,” he said. “One is the taxi law.”
Mr. Cantwell raised the committee’s perennial issue of the lack of a public restroom in the hamlet’s commercial district, pledging to help resolve it. “I saw the results in the Village of East Hampton when we built a restroom in Herrick Park,” he said. “It was very well received by all businesses and merchants. It’s what you have to have in a business center like here.”
A proposal to build a restroom in the parking lot on the north side of Main Street would displace six or seven parking spaces, Mr. Cantwell said. With parking also in short supply, he asked, “Does that make sense?”
He also recalled the possibility of a public restroom being constructed on Amagansett Square, which Randy Lerner, that property’s owner, had proposed, pledging to absorb a majority of its cost. Would that satisfy the committee? “We need a public bathroom,” said Mr. Brew. “If the private business owner wants to put one there, that’s a phenomenal add-on, but if you talk to the business owners on this side, and the people at the library, they’ve had it,” he said, referring to the crowds, particularly in the summer. The consequent loss of parking spaces, Mr. Brew said, “was the biggest issue. We’re well short of what town studies have found would be adequate. It’s a tradeoff. We would rather not trade off.”
Britton Bistrian, a member of the committee and a land-use consultant — Mr. Lerner is a client — told the gathering that “the private bathroom, hopefully, will be something you will see in very near future.” However, she said, the hamlet has another big issue that may not be apparent on the surface, affordable housing. “We cannot put more apartments above stores in Amagansett . . . until you put in a public sewer. If we’re looking at a public bathroom, we should have comprehensive wastewater treatment in Amagansett.”
“We need a point person, a ‘toilet czar,’ ” Mr. Broderick said. “Somebody that is the focal point of this discussion.”
“The town is doing a comprehensive wastewater treatment study,” Mr. Cantwell said. “You could wade through that process to see whether or not some treatment system would apply and be desirable in Amagansett. All these things delay the process of building a bathroom.” He pledged to look into the matter, to “see what’s on file as to what’s been done to this point.”
With respect to parking, Tom Field of the committee wondered aloud if long-term parking, presently permitted in the northerly rows of the parking lot, should be prohibited. “I think people are parking for weeks and weeks,” he said. “Why is that car not at home?”
Strict regulation in East Hampton Village, Mr. Cantwell said, “is a very effective way to turn over parking spaces. But there are consequences to that: It applies to everybody. There are merchants, their employees. Where are they going to park? You could eliminate overnight parking or parking for longer terms. You could put a ban on parking for more than 24 hours or 7 days. Then it becomes an enforcement issue.” He pledged to “get a better picture of what the obstacles are. I’ve got to see the lay of the land before I can focus on what is a good alternative,” he said.
As for the proposed 555 development, which was at least temporarily derailed last month when the Suffolk County Planning Commission announced its opposition to the required zone change, Mr. Cantwell spoke in general terms about future opportunities for the 24-acre site, including an affordable housing overlay district and “keeping local working families in town.” Or, he said, “that vast open space is something we should try to protect to the extent we can.”