After Hampton Bays Fracas, Southampton Town to Hold Listening Sessions
Pictured Above: People don’t often notice the architectural variety on Main Street in Hampton Bays, but it does add character to the hamlet.
After uproar in late August over language in a contract looking to “neutralize” opponents of the redevelopment of downtown Hampton Bays, Southampton Town representatives are inviting residents to a series of listening sessions throughout the month of October with the hopes of making amends.
The town had been planning to hire consultants Nelson, Pope & Voorhis to draft a new overlay zoning district for downtown Hampton Bays after an earlier version of the district had been struck down in court due to incomplete environmental review.
But buried on page one of the proposed contract with the consultants was a clause stating that part of their “community outreach” work would be to “neutralize” the opposition’s hot-button issues “by having them appear as traditional NIMBYs who consistently present misinformation to promote their own limited agendas.”
After the Southampton Press’s Kitty Merrill pressed town officials on why that language was included in the contract in a front page story on Aug. 25, scores of Hampton Bays residents packed into the high school for a Hampton Bays Civic Association forum the following week demanding accountability, leading the town to not sign the contract.
The town is now working to rebuild its relationship with Hampton Bays residents through a series of listening sessions on Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m., Oct. 6 through Oct. 27, at the Hampton Bays Community Center at 25 Ponquogue Avenue.
“I want to create a comfortable setting for constituents to voice their opinions on the subject of revitalizing Hampton Bays,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “Standing up and speaking before hundreds of people at a public meeting might be intimidating to some, so I’m offering a more intimate, less formal atmosphere in which views can be shared. I invite anyone to stop by, say hello, and let me know what ideas you have.”
Town Council members will also be participating, but one at a time, because any more than two board members in one meeting would constitute a quorum, and would have to be noticed as a public meeting of the town board.
Staff from the town’s Planning Department will also attend the listening sessions, and are also working on a new survey of the community that will be available soon.
“I want us to go back to basics, to build consensus without pre-conceived notions,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “My hope is that these listening sessions, along with the survey, will give everyone a clear blueprint as to what the community envisions for its future.”
Southampton Town has been working for nearly two decades to gather ideas from the Hampton Bays community about how they would like to see their hamlet in the future.
“Since I’ve been here, in 2003, we’ve been cultivating information,” Town Planner Janice Scherer told the town board at its Sept. 15 work session. “We were always trying to get to the hamlet center as the locus of the community, where people are able to park and enjoy the area as pedestrians, with cultural and recreational activities in the center.”
“When it comes to knowing where we’re going, outreach is important. There’s no such thing as “neutralizing” opposition. That language is wrong at every level, but a lot of the vacuum that took place (after the contract was publicized) was filled with misinformation,” she added.
Some community concerns raised at the civic meeting included the idea of tucking a sewage treatment plant on a piece of property near the St. Rosalie cemetery, and concerns over whether the plan would allow taller buildings, along with traffic problems that have steadily worsened in the time since the plan was first conceived.
One of the hallmarks of the proposal was to provide zoning that allowed shops that were accessible solely by pedestrians along the edge of the five-acre Good Ground Park just north of Main Street, where cultural events are held now.
“People are having a problem envisioning what you propose,” Councilwoman Cynci McNamara told Ms. Scherer at the Sept. 15 work session. “They laugh when you say people are going to walk downtown and see shops and cafés. They can’t envision shops along the park. In their mind, this is the narrow strip of Main Street, which is very different from other Main Streets because it is also Montauk Highway.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he thought residents who attended the civic association forum “seemed to want some sort of performing arts center, a cultural venue somewhere that was family friendly, with wide sidewalks and bike lanes,” he said.
“I want to address the resident who seems to think I or other town board members want to help developers,” he added. “That’s not the case. This is all about helping the community…. We want the zoning to be in line with the desires of the community. It’s unfortunate what happened with the Nelson, Pope contract and the language that should have never been there in the first place. It’s about the community. This is for them, and by them.”