“Wainscott residents should consider the costs associated with issues of zoning and land use.”

Letter to the Editor of the East Hampton Star
July 30, 2020

Wainscott, New York

Dear David:

I write this in my private capacity, and not as a representative of the Town or the Town Planning Board, which I chair. I also write this as a resident of Wainscott for over 26 years, as someone who was a member of the Wainscott CAC for over 13 years – including 8 years as cochair– who enjoys many friendships in Wainscott.

At the July 11, 2020 Zoom meeting of the Wainscott CAC, proponents of an Incorporated Village of Wainscott stated that incorporation’s additional annual costs to residents were expected to be as high as $300,000. I believe that this figure wildly underestimates the additional expense which Wainscott residents will bear if incorporation comes to pass.

In their literature, supporters claim that incorporation “will also allow us to exercise greater control over zoning”. Leaving aside precisely what that nebulous statement means, Wainscott residents should consider the costs associated with issues of zoning and land use.

The Town of East Hampton has a zoning code which has been law for over 60 years; it is highly detailed and takes into consideration a wide range of uses and potential uses of land. It has been the subject of dozens of Article 78 proceedings and legal challenges in Federal and State Court and it has always withstood attack.

Drafting a village zoning code would be no easy task, but that cost is not mentioned by proponents of incorporation. In order to have a zoning code which can withstand legal attack, an Incorporated Village of Wainscott would need to develop and issue a Comprehensive Village Plan, hold meaningful public hearings and take into account the myriad residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial land uses already found within its proposed boundary which, as proposed, is identical to the existing boundary of the Wainscott School District.

New York State Village Law § 2-250 provides that immediately upon incorporating and continuing for up to two years, pending land-use applications in an Incorporated Village of Wainscott would be governed by the East Hampton Town zoning code. However, the Town’s enforcement and administration of the zoning code would continue only “until the first day of June following the first day of January next succeeding the date of incorporation and thereafter by the appropriate village officials.”

This means that the costs associated with reviewing and approving or denying site plans, special permits and all other land use applications would be borne by solely by the residents of an Incorporated Village of Wainscott. These costs include paying for the hard work which is presently performed by the paid professionals and staffs of the Town Planning Department, Town Building Department and Town Natural Resources Department, as well as the Town Planning Board, Town Zoning Board of Appeals and Town Architectural Review Board, all of which have paid administrative staffs of their own. This is not work which ought to be subcontracted to neighboring towns or incorporated villages – at considerable cost – particularly if an Incorporated Village of Wainscott wishes “to exercise greater control over zoning,” The proponents of incorporation make no provision for these expenses, which surely will be many times the fanciful $300,000 overall budget which they promise.

Then, once the newly formed boards of an Incorporated Village of Wainscott issue rulings – whether granting or denying land use applications and variances – litigation is certain to follow. In the current land use environment, in which millions of dollars are at stake even in the most mundane matters, Article 78 proceedings are routine business. The legal fees associated with just one hotly litigated matter could easily cost up to $300,000. Presently, the entire Town of East Hampton pays these unavoidable legal bills; a serious financial hardship would be imposed on the residents of an Incorporated Village of Wainscott if future legal bills are solely their responsibility.

Leaving aside the costs associated with developing a zoning code, processing ongoing applications as well as new applications and litigation, proponents of incorporation also ignore conflicts which are certain to arise within the confines of an Incorporated Village of Wainscott. In order to withstand legal attack, a zoning code must take into account a range of actual and potential uses of land under its purview. In the Town of East Hampton, these land uses are accommodated between Town Line Road and Montauk Point. In an Incorporated Village of Wainscott, an equally wide variety of land uses, as well as a diverse population, must be accommodated within the narrow space between Town Line Road and Route 114.

Your editorial (“Wainscott’s Future Needs a Fine Comb”) rightly states “the area between Town Line Road and the Georgica Association has retained a charm evocative of the South Fork as it used to be.” But an Incorporated Village of Wainscott would encompass an area far greater than that charming and historic site; it would begin at the Atlantic Ocean, cross Route 27 and continue north to the boundary of the Incorporated Village of Sag Harbor. Can there be any doubt that the retention of that “charm … as it used to be” will result in pressures which will divide, rather than unify, an Incorporated Village of Wainscott?

Very truly yours,