A plan to have a controversial new outdoor lighting law examined by a new committee that would include Susan Harder, a lighting engineer and consultant on “dark-skies” legislation, drew agreement across the town board at a meeting on Tuesday, but prompted a disagreement about how public the group’s discussions should be.
East Hampton Town’s lighting legislation has been under discussion for several years, and recently a deadline for businesses to come into compliance with a 2006 law has been pushed back by another three months, until the end of March.
Ms. Harder, who was a catalyst for the 2006 law, has been highly critical of the proposal to abandon it and of draft legislation being developed under the supervision of Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley. At a recent town board meeting, she said that the proposed new law, which Ms. Quigley has said mirrors model legislation developed by the International Dark Skies Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society, differs substantially from that model and would dismantle protections against excessive lighting contained in the current code.
Before introducing the idea for a new lighting code committee on Tuesday, Ms. Quigley said that after an original proposal was aired in 2010, the legislation had been discussed by a group of people that included town planners and business owners. When the new town board members, Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, asked who had been involved, Ms. Quigley said she could not remember who was involved or how they had been chosen.
“We don’t even have a list of who was giving us advice?” Ms. Overby asked.
Ms. Quigley proposed to name seven people to the new committee, including Ms. Harder. The group would also include Joel Halsey, a town planner, Sean Heaney, an electrician, a yet-to-be-chosen “environmentalist,” Loring Bolger, a member of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, Steven Gaines, who ran unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket for town board last year, and one of two marina operators. She said she would work with the group.
“I’m very happy about the initiative to broaden the scope of people working on the legislation,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “I think it’s important to have Susan Harder involved. I think it’s important to have people who are affected involved.” He questioned, however, the reason for appointing Mr. Gaines to the committee.
“He’s a person in the community,” Ms. Quigley said. “I think he’s a smart guy, and he expressed an interest.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc also suggested including a small-business owner, someone who might have to go through the process of seeking a site plan approval that meets the lighting code strictures. Ms. Overby suggested finding someone who has already been through the process under the current law.
Ms. Quigley has cited problems with the current procedure as the reason to scrap what’s on the books and write something new. However, others, including members of the Planning Department, have said that the legislation is workable.
Ms. Quigley, along with her Republican counterparts on the board, balked at Councilwoman Overby’s suggestion that the committee’s discussions might be open to the public.
“I would rather not,” Ms. Quigley replied, “because I am looking for a concise way to address the issue.”
After the committee grapples with details of the law, the board will seek public input on any legislation that is then proposed, Councilman Dominick Stanzione said.
Both Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc acknowledged that unfettered public participation could hamper a committee’s ability to meet its goals. But Ms. Overby suggested allowing the public to observe the committee’s meetings, as was done when the town’s Budget and Finance Advisory Committee met — “only because this has been on the table for so long; there’s been a lot of controversy about it,” Ms. Overby said.
When Ms. Overby pressed the issue a bit later in the meeting, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson erupted in frustration.
But Mr. Van Scoyoc continued, saying it would be better “if at least the meetings are open to the public to sit . . . and quietly listen.”
“I think the whole idea of including the public is this sense of, things are happening behind closed doors,” he said.
“I am not suggesting that the public isn’t entitled to be involved,” Ms. Quigley said. “But we have to ensure that work gets done.” The results, she said, would then be put before the public. “I believe this is the best way,” she said. “I believe it is the most fair, expeditious, and likely-to-result-in-the-best-product method.”
“There’s a difference between politics and government,” Ms. Quigley said. “These issues are governance, and they’re also political.”
“It has happened that people will come and make it into a political issue. I believe the public part is after the group has an opportunity to put the pieces together.”
Allowing the public to observe, Ms. Overby said, “is not stopping the process.”
The current lighting law has been working, she added. “Replacing the law is completely bogging down government.”
But Ms. Quigley said enacting only an amendment was considered, “and it was decided it was impossible.”