East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Margaret Turner, the executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, expressed outrage at a work session of the town board Tuesday morning over being kept in the dark by Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who has proposed several amendments to the town’s lighting law without discussing them with the board first.
Ms. Quigley said she was upset that Ms. Overby had bypassed a committee chaired by Ms. Turner that had spent the better part of a year reviewing the law and had submitted its own revisions to the town board last spring. No action had been taken, however.
At issue was a series of amendments that Ms. Overby, working with Susan Harder of Springs, a member of the Dark Skies Society, and Richard Kahn, a retired Montauk attorney, had drafted, along with Marguerite Wolffson, the town’s planning director. These amendments were referred to the town attorney’s office, which returned them to board members late last week in the form of revisions to the law that the committee had proposed.
“One is a law by the people, by the town board, the other is by a select few who think they know better,” Ms. Quigley fumed.
“We have asked you several times for input. Nothing, absolutely nothing,” Ms. Turner said. “It’s so disrespectful.”
For her part, Ms. Overby said she had eschewed discussing the proposed amendments with the committee because she feared it was intent on gutting the law. “We should be able to fix the current law, not throw it away completely,” she said. “Trying to start from scratch can lead to unintended consequences.”
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Overby said she had sent the amendments to the town attorney’s office for review but had not requested that they be incorporated into a revised version of the law. Ms. Overby also said that she had met with Ms. Harder, Mr. Kahn, and Ms. Wolffsohn only once, with follow-up conversations with Ms. Wolffsohn.
The existing lighting law was passed in 2006 and was intended to reduce light pollution by, among other things, requiring that the wattage of outdoor fixtures be limited, that they be directed downward, and that their light not be allowed to spill onto neighboring properties. That law had drawn complaints for being overly complicated and difficult to interpret, Ms. Turner said on Tuesday afternoon.
Ms. Quigley said she had agreed to take on the task of revisiting the law from Councilwoman Julia Prince, when she left office at the end of 2012. Ms. Quigley’s efforts to revise the law bogged down amid conflicting visions of its scope, and she turned it over to a committee.
“I don’t really give a flying F,” Ms. Quigley said of her own involvement. “I have no interest in lighting. I’m only trying to do what’s right for the town.” She said her biggest gripe about the 11th hour amendments offered by Ms. Overby was that it violated the spirit of the political process.
The discussion at Tuesday’s work session, which grew heated as snowflakes swirled outside the Montauk Firehouse where it occurred, did not dwell on specifics. Ms. Turner, however, said she was concerned that Ms. Overby’s proposed revisions stripped the authority of the planning board to review minor lighting changes, giving that review to the Planning Department.
“This is a dictatorship,” she said.
Ms. Overby responded that allowing the Planning Department to approve minor changes on an administrative basis would save time for applicants, who would not have to wait for the planning board to schedule discussions.
Ms. Quigley took exception to another change in the Overby proposal that would require a property owner to prove that nonconforming lighting pre-existed the original law. “In practical reality, it doesn’t grandfather anyone,” she said, adding that the burden of proof would be difficult for many people to meet.
Another brush fire was started when Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc questioned whether the lighting committee had ever been officially sanctioned by the town board. That drew an angry rebuke from Ms. Quigley, who said she did not care if the board passed a formal resolution creating the committee or not, but that she was certain it had been given the green light by the entire board and had been acting in good faith.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, saying there was simply not enough time for any action to be taken between now and the end of his administration, tried several times to end the discussion.
“If you have had these for a year, why are we just getting them now?” Ms. Turner asked Ms. Overby of her revisions. “I don’t actually believe in what you are doing,” Ms. Overby said.
“So if you don’t believe in it, start another committee, Mr. Wilkinson said, shaking his head.
After the session adjourned, Ms. Turner, Ms. Overby, Mr. Van Scoyoc, and Supervisor-elect Larry Cantwell huddled in the meeting room. The gist of that conversation, Ms. Turner said, was that all parties would get together after the new year in an effort to hammer out an agreement.
“We all want the same thing,” she said. “People want to cooperate. People want to comply. People don’t want a lot of bright lights around.”