Larry Cantwell and Tom Knobel
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and his challenger, Tom Knobel, at Tuesday’s debate.

To hear all of the candidates tell it at Tuesday’s League of Women Voters debate for East Hampton Town Supervisor and Town Board, the town has become a victim of its own success — driving longtime residents away due to lack of affordable housing or good jobs, while the roads are taxed to the max with visitors and the shorelines and water supply are plagued by erosion and pollution.

The candidates’ solutions for those issues, however, were quite nuanced.

Incumbent Democratic Supervisor Larry Cantwell is seeking his second two-year term, while the town’s Republican Party Chairman, Tom Knobel, is seeking to unseat him.

Democratic Town Board members Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, both completing their first four-year terms, are running for re-election against Republican candidates Margaret Turner, the former executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, and real estate broker Lisa Larsen, the wife of East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen.

Ms. Larsen was unable to attend the debate due to a personal obligation.

Mr. Cantwell began the evening touting his administration’s work to restore civility on the town board, after much infighting under former supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s tenure.

Mr. Cantwell said his administration had cut the town’s debt by $10 million, completed a wastewater study, preserved “hundreds of acres of critically sensitive land,” and expanded affordable housing in town.

But Mr. Knobel pointed to several long-languishing legislative initiatives, like a proposed rental registry and another proposal to limit the types of commercial trucks that can be kept at private residences, as proof that the current town board is out of touch with the community.

“Many of the local people are being driven out of this town or are unable to enjoy living in this town,” he said. “We don’t have housing for our children and we don’t have jobs that pay enough.”

Mr. Knobel added that he believes a rental registry would add more paperwork to residents’ lives, and the truck code, which has been bandied about for several years, would limit the ability of tradesmen to respond to emergency calls.

He said he was “flat-out opposed” to an early draft of the rental registry and is reserving judgement on a new draft until after a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 19.

Mr. Cantwell said the rental registry is aimed at preventing overcrowded year-round housing and party houses, which are making it more difficult for ordinary residents to find a place to live.

“It’s an overcrowding problem that is going to have a very serious impact on our quality of life and our economy,” he said, adding that the rental registry is “not a panacea, but it’s another tool in the toolbox of trying to keep this community from becoming overcrowded.”

“The disparity of incomes, to a large extent, has become a national issue,” he said. “The upper 1 percent is getting ahead and the middle class is left behind. I see the glass half full, not half empty here in East Hampton. What I find is a community that’s a special place where neighbors help neighbors in need… Tom says we’re only the facade of a local community. That’s not what I see. Every day that I go to work I try to make this a better place to live and work.”

Mr. Cantwell said the future of good-paying work in East Hampton is dependent on the development of new technology in the underutilized industrial park just south of the East Hampton Airport.

“Much of the economy is built on tourism,” he added. “I remember the days when we talked about building the shoulder seasons. The truth is its been a fairly successful effort. All you had to do was be anywhere in town this past weekend. The tourism season is growing.”

Mr. Knobel pointed out that The East Hampton Star newspaper is listed as the seventh largest employer in town, behind East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village, the schools in town and Gurney’s Inn in Montauk.

“And there’s the public sector aspect to three of those four,” he said. “We have to do better than that.”

On noise pollution from helicopters that use the East Hampton Airport, Mr. Cantwell said the town board’s work this year to wrest control of airport access from the Federal Aviation Administration was a “major legal victory.”

“The Town of East Hampton has the right to place restrictions on its locally owned municipal airport,” he said. “The fact that we brought that effort and the town’s position was sustained was a major victory.”

Mr. Knobel said he believes aviation interests don’t think the town is setting new restrictions in good faith, and he believes the town’s $1 million  2016 budget for litigation over airport issues may be too small.

“This has been an exceedingly adversarial fight with aviation interests.” he said. “The aviation industry have to acquire a stock of quieter aircraft. If you want to be a good neighbor in East Hampton, you have to get quieter helicopters. But the aviation interests, for whatever reason, do not think the town is acting in good faith. They want to talk with someone who they think has an open mind.”

Mr. Cantwell countered by saying that Mr. Knobel and his running mates had taken $50,000 in campaign financing from aviation interests.

Mr. Knobel said David Gruber, an active Democrat in East Hampton who has also been very vocally opposed to the airport, had contributed more than $300,000 to Democrats.

On the issue of whether the Community Preservation Fund 2 percent real estate transfer tax should be extended to 2050, with a provision that 20 percent of the money can be used for water quality projects, Mr. Knobel said he doesn’t believe water quality money should be commingled with money meant to be used for land preservation, especially given the town’s past mishandling of its CPF resources during former Supervisor Bill McGintee’s administration.

He added that he believes the CPF tax should not apply to home purchases under $500,000. East Hampton’s CPF tax currently kicks in after the first $250,000 in sales price.

Mr. Cantwell said there’s already a full CPF tax exemption for first-time homebuyers. He added that, if the water quality provision is added to the CPF fund, the town plans to put together a plan to address what to do about excess nitrogen in the water and failing septic systems, and present that plan to the voters in a November 2016 referendum.

Both candidates said they support the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to place geotextile sandbags along the downtown Montauk oceanfront, a project that was slated to begin this week but is currently awaiting a court hearing Oct. 14.

“In the ideal world that would have been a very large beach replenishment project, but that was not an option that the Army Corps of Engineers wanted,” said Mr. Cantwell. “It’s not the most ideal project by any stretch of the imagination, but downtown Montauk is in a very precarious position. Walking away and doing nothing, for me, was not an option.”

Mr. Cantwell pointed out that in some areas, like Lazy Point, the town has been able to purchase houses that are in danger of flooding through a $10 million grant for “floodplain restoration.”

“Those are the kind of long-term solutions that will hopefully become more prevalent,” he said. “In downtown Montauk, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of oceanfront real estate that you’d have to buy.”

Mr. Knobel agreed.

“You don’t want the Atlantic Ocean lapping at Route 27,” he said, adding that the town should revisit its Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, which was drafted more than a decade ago.

Mr. Cantwell said that, while the town is in dire need of a town-wide reassessment, it can’t afford the $3 million to $4 million price tag.

“At the moment, I think there are other priorities, infrastructure investments that we have to make,” he said. “This town went through a difficult financial period, and there’s been significant retrenchment. We have buildings with roofs leaking, restroom facilities at public beaches, some of which are almost disgraceful. That has to come first. The current system is clearly a mess. At some point in time this is something the town should do.”

Mr. Knobel said one person he’d met on the campaign had asked him what value he places on inequality.

“I’m amazed there hasn’t been a class action suit,” he said. “There are houses south of highway, some of which haven’t been reassessed in a long, long time.”

In his closing statement, Mr. Cantwell said it had been his honor and privilege to serve as a public servant in East Hampton for 40 years, both as a town councilman and the East Hampton Village Administrator before becoming supervisor.

“We’ve had our challenges in the past year-and-a-half and I think we’ve faced those challenges wisely,” he said, adding that he is particularly proud of the town’s code enforcement, police department and fire marshals for their work to combat rampant drinking and partying in Montauk this summer.

Mr. Knobel took advantage of his last couple minutes to knock the supervisor.

“For an entire year-and-a-half prior, there had been a very great failure of enforcement down in Montauk, as evidenced by a huge decrease in fees in town justice court,” he said. “To then seek complements over the correction is almost inappropriate.”

Town Board Tussle

While Ms. Larsen wasn’t in attendance, a League of Women Voters member read a prepared statement that she’d submitted, which dealt with issues ranging from the need for affordable housing to why town employees hadn’t received raises since 2010 when supervisor’s budget gives town board members 2.5 percent pay raises in 2016.

Ms. Turner, one of the most devoted attendees at town board meetings for her decade at the business alliance, said she’d spent thousands of hours at town board meetings and was appointed by three administrations to the town’s committees on issues ranging from affordable housing to lighting to business needs and wastewater management.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

8 thoughts on “East Hampton Candidates Portray Town Stressed to Max

  1. Mr. Knoble is making a false statement when he says the town is trying to shut the airport down and that the helicopter and aviation industry are unable to communicate with the current board members. It is the town’s right as proprietor to implement rules and regulations. Given the fact that the town has decided not to renew with the FAA on four grant assurances, the board members have elected to implement reasonable and helpful regulations. The curfew provides for aviation enthusiasts to fly from 7am through 11pm, most of the waking hours of the day which means there has been no significant relief for residents below the noisy aircraft. This all boils down to money. Big money. Investors from out of town who want to run our communities over at our expense. The 50,000 dollar campaign contribution by a member of Hellfire has been acknowledged by Mr. Knoble and the GOP candidates. What they fail to understand is our communities are being used for profit and in the long run we will lose our peace and quiet and our real estate, one of the most coveted areas in the world, will lose its appeal to buyers and renters. When that happens, our economy will most assuredly suffer. It is time to face the raw facts: If we permit outside aviation interests to abuse our local airport we will be faced with severe consequences and our east end communities will pay the price for decades to come. Our local airport is a gem. It should remain a safe airport and thus far the current town board has already implemented and installed measures to up-date the weather system, tarmac repair, tree trimming, and new fencing. None of us want to hear the loud rumbling of Gulf Airstreams, guttural chopping of helicopters, growling seaplanes, piercing turbo engines, over our homes. The problem is felt all over the east end. It is time we put the brakes on the noise pollution with includes damage being done to the environment. AvGas, a fuel used by jets, is a known human carcinogen. Instead of cashing out and letting the beauty of the east end disappear because of avarice and short sightedness, let’s vote for the candidates who believe our wonderful local airport should remain open and safe for local aviation enthusiasts and not big out of state aviation profiteers! Re-elect Sylvia Overby, Peter Van Scoyoc, and Larry Cantwell. If you’re unsure about the outcome of our airport, take a moment to look up Barnstable/Hyannis Municipal Airport. Or Caldwell Airport where I learned to fly. Once upon a time they too served local aviation enthusiasts. Do we want Jet Blue here? Take back our airport and maintain the beauty of the east end. Silence is golden. No amount of money can buy it back once it’s gone. No amount of money can buy the east end’s beauty back if we let it go to destruction now.

    1. The number of falsehoods and inaccuracies in your statement is typical of your Quiet Skies group. The runway that is in such desperate need of repair that it cannot be used has NOT been paved, only a taxiway that used to be a runway until it was closed due to the efforts of Quiet Skies’ founder was paved – the runway continues to be dangerous and the town refuses to repair it. The trees that have grown into the gliide slope have NOT been cut and continue to threaten the lives of pilots and passengers. The old broken weather system gas NOT been replaced and is virtually non-functional, requiring pilots to depend on systems in Connecticut and further up Long Island and placing pilots and passengers at risk. The fencing to keep deer and turkey off the runway so planes don’t crash into them when taking off and landing has NOT been installed. You and your Quiet Skies group have adamantly and publicly opposed all of them and instead have published the deaths of local and regional pilots on your Facebook page with macabre schadenfruede. Instead of performing this critical safety maintenance at the airport, Cantwell and the current town board have emptied the airports funds to use for their attorneys fees and have sat on their hands for 2 years doing nothing. They claim they now would need to issue a bond to perform the repairs. Your poppycock about JetBlue is ridiculous. Not only has no one (not one single person) ever proposed such a concept, JetBlue could never physically land here – the runway is too short, the terminal is too small, the facilities can’t support such an operation, we don’t have a tower for 9 months, and no one wants them. By the way, jets don’t use AvGas, they use JetA. Only small piston planes use AvGas. You would know this if you were really a pilot as you claim – but you’re not and you have never been. That’s just another one of your Brian Williams fantasies. You hate everything aviation, which you proved when you publicly complained about the local Coast Guard helicopters, harassed the local CG station commanders, and demanded that the CG stop flying over the East End – the same CG that protects and saves our local fishermen, sailors, and boaters.

      1. As in the honored tradition of aviation enthusiasts who tell people bothered by noise : Just move if you don’t like the airport…

      2. Both Tubby and EHLocal are so badly misinformed about the East Hampton Airport it is hard to know where to begin. When the 1989 Airport Master Plan was adopted, with the approval of local pilots, there were two secondary runways, 4-22 and 16-34. All professional wind analyses conducted, going back to 1980, show the same thing, that 16-34 in combination with the main runway provides better wind coverage than 4-22. Not only is the coverage higher, but 16-34 meets the FAA’s minimum standard of 95% coverage in all seasons and 4-22 does not. As the airport does not require three runways, and this is no longer standard practice under FAA standards, the 1989 Airport Master Plan, again with the concurrence of the local pilots, provided that 4-22 would be closed at the end of its useful life. That was then estimated to be in 5 years, 1994. In fact, 4-22 remained open an additional 10 years when it finally became unsafe and was closed according to plan.

      3. As to other safety matters, the Airport Planning Committee, Noise sub-committee that I chaired, as its first order of business, identified critical safety issues to be addressed with the highest priority. There were five: new taxiway lighting, taxiway repaving, a new or upgraded Automated Weather Station, removing tree obstacles that had grown into the instrument approaches, and completely the deer fence. We also recommended the hiring of new engineers to assist with planning. The taxiway lighting is done. The taxiway repaving is done. The AWOS is being installed. The engineers are in discussion with the FAA to determine just which trees must be cut as there are not hard and fast rules and this is a matter for the FAA to decide as it relates to safety. The Airport Management Advisory Committee, on which I sit, has asked its aviation members to recommend the route for new deer fencing. That is moving forward.

        There is no plot to close the airport. That is a blatant falsehood that has been deployed by aviation interests for years as a means of resisting any noise controls. As for attorneys’ fees, those are the result of multiple lawsuits brought by aviation interests to prevent the noise restrictions adopted by the Town Board, the democratically elected representatives of the people of East Hampton, from taking effect. The legal defense is paid for by airport user fees. Airport funds are more than adequate for that purpose, so much so that based airport continue to pay nothing, zero, for use of the airport. If airport users want to waste their own money attempting to bully the town, lawsuits that they are going to lose, there is no reason why anyone else should sympathize. If they don’t want to waste their own money on lawsuits, they can simply withdraw them and honor the will of the people of East Hampton as regards the airport that belongs to them, all of them.

        As for moving due to airport noise, those who want to live near an airport are welcome to move to Queens, as close as possible to LGA or JFK. There is no reason for them to remain in East Hampton and be frustrated because our town is democratically governed. Government exists to make rules for the common good.

  2. EH LOCAL: Unlike me, you hide behind your real identity. My statements are true and yours are filled with anger and animosity. I oppose the egregious noise pollution over my and my neighbors homes on the South and North Forks and Shelter Island. As for your statement that I “harassed” anyone is also patently false and perhaps you once held the position of ‘noise abatement director” at the airport wherein I called to let you know there was a Coast Guard plane so low over our home our entire household shook and we were terrified. Your response? “If I didn’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” Or, “All you people demonize the pilots.” Who are “all you people”? You mean the people who have helicopters and seaplanes and jets flying constantly over our homes so that we can’t hear ourselves talk and our children and pets run away screaming or barking in fear? Are you referring to the people who chose to live here because it is/was so peaceful? Why is it that basic human rights are not considered?

    As far as the veracity of my statement regarding being a pilot, I am the daughter of a United States Air Force Colonel who served in both WWII and the Korean War as a pilot. Not only did I learn to fly with my father but I took flying lessons. After the war, my father purchased two planes to and flew for enjoyment on the weekends, often letting me fly to my summer camp in Maine with him. My two brothers are pilots as well. All I can tell from your heated response to my comment is that you are just an angry and rude person who likes to belittle behind a fake identity.
    Furthermore, you show absolutely no regard for your fellow neighbors of the east end.

    It is known that AVGas is a human carcinogen. As long as you can plunder the environment with contaminants and harass residents of the east end, you don’t care what damage or disconcerting noise pollution you and your fellow aviation groups from out of state desire. It is selfish and rude of you to think everyone should have their lives and homes ruined because you don’t give a damn. You and your friends want big government to take over so you can see the airport expanded.

    I speak from experience when I remind the people of Caldwell and Barnstable/Hyannis Municipal Airports having expanded just as East Hampton Airport may if we take FAA funding. You know this to be the truth but choose to deny it to gain public alliance.

    The Federal Aviation Administration is in the business of aircraft travel and is not interested in noise abatement or helping communities who have serious issues with noise pollution. If we take FAA funding we are locked into decades of their rules and regulations and we surrender our rights as proprietor of the airport. As proprietor we are permitted to implement rules and regulations that you and your friends, (Friends of East Hampton Airport: aviation lobbyists from Washington D.C. and outside state aviation corporate interests) don’t want because it will curtail the ability for them to profit and expand their businesses which will mean expansion at the airport.

    Jemille Charlton publicly called for additional buildings to accommodate the thriving and growing business. This is called “expansion.” In increments we stand to lose our small airport and in its place a larger, more commercial airport will take its place. We who support Quiet Skies Coalition and our communities who have a right to peace and quiet, do NOT want to see this happen. If you are an aviation enthusiast why not enjoy flying and let others on the ground below, enjoy peace and quiet. I think you’re hiding behind that nice image of wanting to fly your plane for fun when in reality it’s profit you all want and thats why there is so much riding on this issue this campaign season.

    The present East Hampton Town government has worked in a professional and eager manner to address all the issues facing our locally owned airport. It continues to do so. I ask my neighbors and friends to re-elect the party members who have been diligent and truthful about their efforts to listen and work for, a more peaceful east end that we can enjoy for decades to come.

  3. Errata in my comments:

    “based aircraft” not “based airport” pay nothing.

    “completing” the deer fence, not “completely” the deer fence

  4. I am the founder of East Hampton Helicopter Noise Coalition and Co-Founder of Quiet Skies Coalition. EH Local is promoting a false statement. I or my co-founder had no, nor presently have direct involvement nor influence in making decisions at the East Hampton Airport let alone the paving of any runways. It’s just blatantly false. I was appointed to serve on two airport advisory committees that had equal representation from the pilots. In fact I am a pilot.

    EH Local and Tubby Tom are cowards hiding behind screen names. I love the airport and no, I’m not going to move, sorry, this is America. I was here before dirty, noisy helicopters began bombarding our community. I simply hate helicopter noise like hating the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. I want to return the airport to what it once was, without helicopters. I will do everything to the best of my ability to assure the airport remains in local control, not highjacked by New Jersey Carpetbaggers who want to to turn East Hampton into toxic waste dumps like New Jersey. All locals are concerned about this, therefore don’t also highjack the name “Local”.

    The fear mongering is already old hat. Stop it already. There has been a deer fence around the airport for about 20 years. Before the deer fence, airport manager, Pat Ryan used to ride a golf cart to chase the deer away from the runways, my golden retriever used to ride shotgun with Pat. When landing my Piper Warrior in the evening, I had to make a low pass down runway 10-28 to scare the deer away, circle around and then safely land. Safety is in the hands of the pilot. When the deer fence was installed it corralled 40-50 deer inside the fence, Every evening they would come out of the woods and feed on the grass next to the runways, now that was a dangerous situation. The Town hired sharp shooters to kill all the deer inside the fence. That solved the problem then and will solve the problem today, not another stupid fence.

    The issue about paving runways is simply a dispute over which runway to abandon. One group wants to keep 4-22, another group wants to keep 16-34. Until that dispute is solved, no paving will be done. This is not some devious anti-safety issue. Selfishly, I’m with the pilots on this issue, airplanes taking off on 16-34 come directly over my house but honestly, airplane noise isn’t bothersome to me. I could live at an airpark, sitting on my front porch, watching airplanes land and takeoff all day long.

    This Town Board has done more to maintain and improve the airport in less than two years than the last two administrations, combined, did in eight years. Stop being childish morons suing the Town to maintain the airport. You are cutting off your nose to spite your face. That money should be used for more improvements not attorney fees. It’s idiotic.

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