Self-employed contractors and tradesmen who work during the day at customers’ houses and return home at night with their trucks and equipment helped fill Town Hall to standing-room capacity last Thursday night, protesting a new law that would restrict the parking of their commercial vehicles on residential streets. Most if not all of them were from Springs.
Many residents of the hamlet turned out as well, in support of the proposed law. Residents have complained that all kinds of landscaping trucks, trailers, dump trucks, box trucks, and the like are being parked, often several at a time, on small lots or narrow streets, impacting property values and causing dangerous traffic conditions.
Plumbers, carpenters, and others whose trades require practical, spacious vehicles and lots of tools acknowledged those legitimate concerns but urged members of the East Hampton Town Board to address only the number of vehicles they can park at their houses, not what kind. The proposed restriction, which targets large trailers, box trucks, dump trucks, modified trucks with rear beds taller or wider than the cab, and any vehicle over 12,000 pounds gross weight, threatens their livelihoods and a common way of making a living that is traditional in the town, they said.
Patrick Brabant described the impact that news of the proposed regulations has had on many workmen. “You get upset, you get sick . . . You think about your life, and what are you going to do to take care of your kids,” he said. “I don’t think any of us here purposely has a trashy yard if they own their home.”
Mr. Brabant also addressed the expectation that small, sole-proprietor businesses would naturally move to a commercially zoned home base after they got established. “I’m a mom-and-pop,” he said, “and you know what, some of us don’t want to get bigger. We like, at 3:30 or 4:30, to go to the ball game and play with our kids, and enjoy our kids. This is our home; this isn’t a second home.”
He had rented a commercial site for a time, he said, but abandoned that idea after his trailer, filled with tools, was stolen — twice — leaving him out $24,000 of equipment. Now, he said, he keeps everything at his house. As for building a garage to stow some of the work gear, he said that it would increase his property tax, and taxes are already high in Springs.
“You are outlawing Bub trucks,” he added about the flatbed trucks traditionally used by locals. “Every 18-year-old had one . . . I know Fred had one,” he said, gesturing toward Councilman Fred Overton.
Other speakers agreed that even if the town were to create commercial truck parking areas, they needed instant access to their vehicles, and said security would be a concern.
“Let’s try to correct the flagrant part of it,” said James Schoenster, a plumber who has several trucks of a size that would be outlawed at residences. He himself has a two-acre property, he said, and is able to park them out of sight. “I don’t run a business there. I drive my truck home, I park it there.” Existing codes outlawing businesses in residential areas have not been well enforced, he added.
Adam Osterweil, who has posted a You-Tube video of the activities in a neighboring yard, vividly described his problem. “A full-size construction company moved into the house next to me,” he said. The constant activity, including large trucks beeping while backing up, has been “an absolute nightmare,” he said.
Mr. Osterweil described his neighbor as a “family guy” whom he had been reluctant to cause problems for, expecting that he would soon move the business elsewhere. Finally, he said, he approached the man about moving it to a commercial property. “But he told me it would be a waste of money.” Because the town code does not currently define which commercial vehicles are allowed in residential zones, Mr. Osterweil said, it took ordinance enforcement officers about a year to gather evidence for a case against the neighbor. He was recently cited in zoning court.
David Buda, a Springs resident who has been photographing properties where commercial trucks are parked and sending emails to a wide list of contacts to illustrate examples of what he says is an egregious problem, displayed more photos at the hearing. “These are examples of things that are going on in a residential community, that never should have been there,” he said. “We need to rein it back in.”
No one, he said, is “trying to displace . . . the skilled tradesmen that are the backbone of the community.” Numerous types of work vehicles could still be parked overnight at houses under the proposed law, he said.
Home-based businesses “should be the exception,” said Sandy Camillo. “It is not the obligation of the other residential homeowners to justify why the residential zoning should be upheld.”
David Harry grew emotional while describing how the proposed law would affect him. “I have a knot in my stomach,” he began. Mr. Harry said that he had, with great effort, purchased his own box truck for his work as a pool company employee so that he could have a safe vehicle to drive and a place to store his tools. But, he said, “I’m going to be turned into a criminal as a result of these proceedings. It’s not fair.” People who come to East Hampton to retire or who do not have to work, he said, don’t understand the challenges and needs of a working person. “Enforce the laws that are in place; don’t penalize the workers,” he told the town board.
“It’s about respect,” said David Wagner, the president of the Clearwater Beach Association. “Respect for your neighbor; respect for the town. Those who would disrupt a residential neighborhood for selfish monetary reasons should not be permitted to continue.”
Phyllis Italiano said there had been a “gradual but noticeable deterioration” of her neighborhood in Springs, but that she opposes the law as written. “You can do better than this,” she told the board.
“We allow four people to have a house together, and these days, all could be tradespeople,” said Zachary Cohen.
“I am interested in preserving the ability of people to work out of their houses,” said Tom Knobel, to applause. The law, he said, would have “an enormous financial impact on a lot of people.”
“One of the big problems in the law is, there is no reference to the size of the property, or the type of disruption,” Mr. Knobel continued. “If it’s tucked away out of sight and out of mind, what’s the harm?”
“Clearly, equal in your mind should be the working-class people that live in the town,” said Lona Rubenstein.
“It’s our livelihood; it’s our life,” said Rossano Berti. “I’ve got a wife and four kids, and I’ve got to work my butt off all day every day just to cover a mortgage, equity line, and their needs.” Renting a commercial site, he said, “is just too much.”
“You shouldn’t all of a sudden come up with a rule because people don’t want to see trucks,” he told the board. “You should be able to keep some things on your property if you have discretion and you’re not bothering anybody.”
Justin Leland said small businesses “operate on very little margin.” To have to rent commercial space would “put a great additional strain on these local businesses, on these sole proprietorships that this town was built on,” he said.
“People who say they should be able to make a living at their homes — why have residential zoning?” Carol Buda asked. “Those who have abused the system,” she said, “have had a devastating impact on property values and neighborhood life. We have anarchy. Many people are struggling to make a living in East Hampton,” she said. “What about sympathy for us?”
“There’s no question that there should be a law that gives residential zones protection from commercial parking,” said Margaret Turner, who heads the East Hampton Business Alliance. However, she said, town officials “have no idea how many vehicles this would displace, or where they will go,” so a business-needs study should be conducted first.
“Right now there isn’t enough commercial space,” Keith Ellis said. “People can’t afford the commercial space that’s there. Or are these guys just supposed to join the ‘trade parade’?”
“This is a hard issue,” said Nan French, “because there are so many people who have businesses from their homes, and they’re not disturbing their neighbors.” She said there had been “really good points” made at the lengthy hearing.
Last week’s hearing was the first time the town board has heard publicly from many of those who would be most affected by the proposed law. The town code currently allows the overnight parking of a “light truck” at a residence, apparently as a way to distinguish between the types of pickups often used as personal vehicles and the larger types of work trucks for business use.
However, because “light truck” is not defined by the code, officials have been unable to stem that tide. Conducting a business in a residential zone is clearly prohibited, though, with the exception of a few low-intensity “home businesses.”
At the close of the hearing, during which Supervisor Larry Cantwell repeatedly solicited specific information from many of the tradesmen about their practices and concerns, the board voted to leave the record open for two weeks for additional written comment.