Connections: Over in East Quogue

The war is a legal proceeding known as an Article 78

Robert DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. have declared war on the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, and, at least in my opinion, rightfully so.

The war is a legal proceeding known as an Article 78 in which they charge the Z.B.A. is violating a section of the town’s open space law governing “subordinate, customary, and accessory uses,” and the state’s Open Meetings Law, which is understood to require a quorum of all municipal agencies and committees to deliberate publicly. 

What makes this of more than routine interest is not whether the 118 housing units and 18-hole golf course proposed for the Pine Barrens, the vast open space that protects a critical aquifer, would harm the environment, but the law requiring public deliberations, which has been endorsed by the state committee on open government and confirmed by the courts. 

Instead of meeting to hash out opinion, the members of the Z.B.A. have decided to follow seemingly arrogant advice from the Southampton Town attorney, James Burke, who thinks it is okay for them to be polled by email. Adam Grossman, the chairman of the Z.B.A, has confirmed this procedure.

The issue was a luxury resort being developed in East Quogue by the Discovery Land Company of Arizona. An assistant Southampton Town attorney, Kathryn Garvin, has said the policy — “polling members individually by email rather than holding public discussions on applications and questions before the board” — is legal. However, from where I sit, it violates the state’s Open Meetings, or Sunshine, Law, which guarantees that official business be conducted in an open and public manner.

A number of organizations and environmentalists have joined the lawsuit, including Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Albert Algieri, president of the East Quogue Civic Association, along with a number of East Quogue residents.

I believe environmental concerns should be a priority in governmental decision-making, but what is threatened here is an overriding state law. Allowing the members of municipal bodies to decide if and when to follow the law is tantamount to chaos. Regardless of how big an environmental threat this development would be, the procedure by which the Southampton Town Z.B.A. has shut out the public is an even more serious public threat.