East Hampton Village Board Candidates Talk Issues
The three candidates vying for two East Hampton Village Board seats on June 19 — Arthur Graham and Bruce Siska, who are seeking re-election, and Rose Brown, a newcomer to the race who is Mr. Graham’s running mate — agree that wastewater treatment is one of the most pressing village issues.
Surveyed this week, they said protecting water quality as well as creating workforce housing and revitalizing the business district were top initiatives. While Mr. Graham and Ms. Brown share the opinion that, after 16 years, the time has come for a new comprehensive plan for the village, Mr. Siska thinks the plan has for the most part maintained its saliency, with the exception of the zoning code, which, he said, could use strengthening.
Mr. Graham, who is known as Tiger, joined the board last year after winning the election to serve the final year of the late Elbert Edwards’s term. He described himself as an “activist who wants to take on new stuff,” and said tackling wastewater treatment would be one of his main objectives. Building a sewage treatment plant for the village would have a positive effect on a range of issues, he said, including safeguarding the ponds, making it possible to create more work-force housing, and increasing the number of restaurants and food stores in the commercial core.
“I am going to, come hell or high water, make sure that we get a sewage treatment plant here in the village,” Mr. Graham said. He acknowledged that a plant was not at the forefront of residents’ minds, and said, “Maybe I supply a little bit of vision and a little bit of impetus, and then the people can decide if they want to do it or not.”
Mr. Graham, who is one of the trustees who has taken the lead on the issue of the noise created by gas-powered leaf blowers, said he had met privately with landscapers and that he eventually foresees a partial ban on the devices. “I am not looking to limit the ability of landscapers to do their jobs. Cleaning up leaves in the fall, you have to have leaf blowers. The restrictions I envision would be Memorial Day to Labor Day kind of stuff,” he said.
As for his desire to review the comprehensive plan, Mr. Graham said those who created it “anticipated revisiting it in 10 or 15 years, and we haven’t. It’s time we do that.” Citing an obvious example of the plan’s being outdated, he said, it says it “would be a bad idea to spend money on more parking in the village.”
“Obviously, that part of the plan needs to be changed. Whoever’s on the board can look at the plan and, with the community’s best interests at heart, say, ‘Change this, add to that.’ ” The village recently purchased property at 8 Osborne Lane for a parking lot.
Ms. Brown, who is a member of the East Hampton Village Design Review Board and the former chairwoman of the planning board, explained her candidacy. “As a younger person raising a family in the village, I have a different perspective and a different voice that would make the board more well rounded.” Asked to pinpoint a recent decision by the board with which she disagreed, she cited what she called dismissive treatment of the village’s inns, which are looking to provide more indoor amenities, such as gift shops or spa services.
“The inns are a vital part of our history and our economy, and I don’t think that we should be myopic in thinking that if they’re not doing well, that’s not our problem,” she said.
Ms. Brown said that in discussion with residents it had become clear that water quality was their highest priority. She said the village should follow East Hampton Town’s lead by requiring septic systems that reduce nitrogen for all new construction and major renovations. “That is something that we really need to act on now,” she said. She also cited Sag Harbor’s wastewater management system as an example of a longer-term solution the village should consider. Sag Harbor collects wastewater and sends it out to the bay.
“Tiger and I really hope to revitalize the downtown,” Ms. Brown added. “We would like to see more food shops, perhaps more restaurants. Everyone agrees that would bring more people into the village.” Some of her other priorities, she said, are sprucing up Herrick Park and finding a solution to the mess created by the stacks of free magazines that pop up in front of stores during the summer. “We need to encourage store owners to handle the magazines in a better way,” she said.
Like her running mate, Ms. Brown is keen on updating the comprehensive plan with the idea of creating a clear-cut strategy for the future. “People get very nervous about change, but I think we have to look at 10 or 20 years from now. That’s really one of the reasons I’m running, I have a vested interest because if one of my kids or all three of my kids want to call this home, what is the village going to look like?”
Mr. Siska has been involved in village government for 24 years, first as a member of the planning board, then as a member of the zoning board of appeals, and, since 2011, as a member of the board itself. Mr. Siska said water quality is the biggest issue for the village. He also called the village decision to create bio-swales at Town Pond and to protect the health of Hook Pond as laudable achievements during his tenure. Currently, he said, “We’re strongly looking at a septic system for the whole village core. That’s in committee now.”
Summing up the job of a trustee, he said, “We’re there to uphold the comprehensive plan and to make sure that everybody has their quality of life.” He criticized the idea of rethinking the whole comprehensive plan, however. “Why should we spend $100,000 to $200,000 to redo it when we’ve only got one small section that we’re having a problem with?” he asked. He identified the zoning code as the priority.
“The code is changing almost daily because of the money that is coming in. People want all kinds of variances. When I was on the zoning board, if you built a new house, you built it to code, that’s what we told them. Now they’re paying high-priced lawyers to plead their case before the zoning board.”
He also said his concern about the vibrancy of the downtown was focused on corporate businesses that make their money during the summer and then close up. “They don’t really give anything back to the village,” he said. The recently enacted village law that removed restrictions on takeout food stores, he said, was crafted with the hope that it would ease the way for mom-and-pop shops. “That way there could be an open sign instead of brown paper all over the windows during the wintertime. That would draw people into the village.”
Another boon to the downtown, he said, would be to create more affordable apartments in second-floor spaces on Newtown Lane and Main Street. “If employees live there rather than traveling from Hampton Bays, they would support the village year round,” he said.
Mr. Siska added, “My consensus is that people on the whole are happy with the way the village is being run. I think everything’s going all right.”