New Take on East Hampton’s Downtown

Can East Hampton Village be more like Sag Harbor?
The East Hampton Village Board is set to hire a consultant to undertake a study of its commercial downtown. David E. Rattray

Faced with challenges in the commercial district, including the need for more environmentally-friendly sewage treatment and increased parking, along with more affordable housing and the improvement of Herrick Park, the East Hampton Village Board decided at a meeting last Thursday to undertake a downtown commercial study. 

Board members have agreed a study is needed, said Becky Molinaro Hansen, the village administrator, and since many issues in the commercial core overlap, hiring consultants to provide professional guidance would aid the process.

As an example of how issues in the commercial core overlap, Barbara Borsack, a village board member, said she had been pondering ways to bring more activity to the area. “We all know that retail is not what it used to be,” she said. But, she said, because of the lack of adequate sewage, that is, a system that can handle further density and reduce the nitrogen that adversely affects ground and surface water, it would not be wise to bring new businesses into the district. “Everybody says, ‘Why can’t we be more like Sag Harbor?’ ” she said. “It’s because we can’t add restaurants because of the water issues.”

Concerns about existing septic systems have also waylaid plans to provide more affordable housing in the village by increasing the number of second-story apartments on Newtown Lane and Main Street. 

Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said the board’s goal was to construct a village sewage treatment facility but that it was an expensive undertaking that would take a long time to complete.

Addressing ongoing parking problems, Ms. Borsack said it was time to replace the ticket-dispensing machines at the entrances of the Reutershan parking lots with those that are more advanced. Outside experts, she said, could also help the board “see what technology is out there.” 

Ms. Hansen said on Tuesday that she, Ms. Borsack, and Arthur Graham, another board member, as well as Billy Hajek, the village planner, and Drew Bennett, a consulting engineer, will meet next week to prepare a legal request for proposals for the commercial study.

Separately, in another nod to technology, the board decided to move forward with increasing Wi-Fi capability and security cameras at village beaches. The board agreed increasing Wi-Fi would be a public convenience for those who want to use their smartphones as well as a safety measure.  

Ms. Hansen, who has been working with the Department of Public Works and the Police Department, said the staff at East End Computers had informed her that it would cost $3,500 to increase Wi-Fi at Main Beach by running a cable through the pavilion. The upgrade, she said, would provide service for 200 to 300 devices, including any in the parking lot as well as in and behind the building and at least 50 feet in front of it. 

As for security cameras, Chief Michael Tracey of the East Hampton Village Police Department said there already are some at Main Beach. “The cameras have been put in in such a way that it protects the building, parking lots, and approaches to the building,” he said. He noted that cameras had proved effective in helping police make arrests for theft and vandalism. 

Chief Tracey said his department had concluded that improving Wi-Fi at Main and Georgica Beaches could be accomplished easily. He suggested focusing on these locations and getting the work done by summer. Two or three security cameras are to be placed at Georgica soon after Wi-Fi becomes available. Two Mile Hollow Beach would be addressed next, he said. There is electricity in an existing structure there, but the addition of a small antenna might be needed. 

Egypt and Wiborg Beaches, which are not lifeguard protected and do not have an available structure for equipment, would be the hardest locations to provide with Wi-Fi, Chief Tracey said. He noted that it might be necessary to affix the device to a nearby light pole.

Mr. Graham had a concern about the amount of bandwidth the village would make available. “It would be terrible if we had someone trying to make an emergency call and couldn’t get through because there was a couple of other people streaming Netflix on the beach,” he said. Chief Tracey said that had not been studied, but that the village would fine-tune the installations as they progressed. 

Rose Brown, a trustee, said residents had expressed safety concerns about the walkway in Herrick Park, which reaches from the Reutershan lot to the long-term parking lot. She suggested placing security cameras there as well as in other parts of the commercial district where they could deter vandalism. 

The mayor concluded the discussion by saying the cameras would provide peace of mind for those in public areas and would not invade anyone’s privacy.

In other business, the board discussed increasing the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information and make it easier for residents to communicate with officials. Ms. Hansen said regulations would have to be put in place to govern who would be allowed to post comments and what postings would be acceptable. 

Mayor Rickenbach was in favor of the proposal, but said, in an obvious reference to President Trump’s use of Twitter, “I do not want this to take on a life of its own. All you have to do is look out on the national horizon to see what certain people in higher office are doing every day. You don’t conduct municipal business through the media.”