Even Bench Space Is at a Premium

Christopher Walsh

    Regular inquiries prompted the East Hampton Village Board to consider a new policy on the installation and placement of memorial benches in public places at its meeting on Friday. With the summer season looming, the board also adopted a law limiting the use of garages on residential property and approved the hiring of police, fire, and ambulance personnel at the brief meeting.

     The amendment to the village code refines the definition of a garage, in response to numerous recent applications to the zoning board of appeals in which proposed accessory structures were labeled garages but were excessively large and had different uses. A garage must now be “accessible by a driveway, designed and capable for use for the storage of motor vehicles owned and regularly used by or on behalf of the owner or tenant” of the property. No habitable space, toilet, shower, or bathtub will be permitted on any level, and no plumbing of any kind will be permitted on a second floor over a garage.

    The matter of memorial benches was broached by Becky Molinaro, the village administrator, who told the board that, along with requests for memorial benches, people seek their placement in particular locations. “We are finding that they are really starting to be overcrowded with benches,” she said of these locations, which Scott Fithian, the village superintendent of public works, said include areas in front of delicatessens and coffee shops.

    The village charges up to about $1,000 for the installation of a bench and memorial inscription at its base. Mr. Fithian distributed a map showing approximately 100 benches throughout the village. “It’s up to the board’s discretion if they want to add more or not,” he said. Ms. Molinaro suggested that the board identify areas where benches are less prevalent so that those locations can be made available. “It may not be as high profile an area as they might want, but we’re giving them a choice,” she said.

    There are big stretches where there are no benches, said Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor. “Would it be helpful if two of us drove around with Scott and identified spots where we thought we could put them?” She and Bruce Siska, a member of the board, volunteered to do so. “When I see people sitting on the benches in the summertime, it makes me feel that the people enjoy our village,” Mr. Siska said. “They’re enjoying their vacation time, or the solitude of sitting in a quaint area of our village. It looks good for the village itself.”

    The village has no formal policy with regard to maintenance and replacement of memorial benches, and Mr. Fithian said vandalism and storms are the only burdens to the Public Works Department. They are collected and chained together before extreme weather events and are cleaned periodically, he said. “When a bench is vandalized beyond repair,” Mr. Fithian said, it has been replaced at village expense. Repair or replacement should perhaps become the purchaser’s liability, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. suggested. “We certainly want to continue to support this idea,” he said of the memorial benches. 

    Of the new emergency personnel, the mayor voiced the board’s appreciation for their commitment and wished them “a long and safe journey.” Richard Lawler, a board member and the village’s police commissioner, then noted that it was National Police Week. “In particular, I want to recognize our village police — that includes dispatchers as well — for the terrific job that they do in keeping our community safe and making this a wonderful place to live.” He thanked Chief Gerard Larsen personally. “And please bring our ‘thank you’ back to the rest of your department.” 

    “We’re on the threshold of the beginning of the summer season,” the mayor said at the meeting’s conclusion. “As I say every year at this time, let’s put a smile on our face and welcome everyone into the local community, and show them what a class village is all about.”