East Hampton Clash Over Trucks Turns to Debate on Class, Race and Property Values

These trucks are in Springs but they're not sitting in someone's driveway, because it's just plain mean to take pictures in someone's driveway.
These trucks are in Springs but they’re not sitting in someone’s driveway, because it’s just plain mean to take pictures in someone’s driveway.

The working man’s pickup truck has long been a symbol of Bonac pride, but out in the Springs hamlet of East Hampton, a war is now raging between neighbors who bring large work trucks home with them and other neighbors who believe those trucks are ruining their lives.

East Hampton has been debating for years how best to manage this war, and its latest iteration of a code that would better define the concept of a “light truck” met with more resistance than any proposal yet floated.

Working men passionately defended their trucks, while their neighbors, many of whom are relatively recent imports to Springs, said their quality of life is being ruined by trucks at a hearing before the East Hampton Town Board on July 17.

David Harry, who works for  a swimming pool company and spent years paying off a truck he bought himself after the brakes failed on a truck provided by his employer, was so choked with emotion by the proposal that he handed his written comments to Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell to read when he couldn’t continue to speak. ”

I have a knot in my stomach for a week now after reading about this in the paper,” he said.

Pat Brabant uses a plumber’s truck with a cap larger than the cab for his carpentry work.

“I don’t think any of us purposely has a trashy yard if they own their home,” he said, adding that many people in Springs use box trailers to store their equipment instead of building garages, because garages increase their property tax assessment. Springs residents have the highest taxes in East Hampton, due to the high number of children in the schools and the lack of commercial real estate.

Adam Osterweil, however, said he was “blissfully unaware” of the trucks in his environment, “until a full-fledged construction company” moved in next door to him. He put up with his neighbor’s constant use of commercial trucks until people who were working on his own house convinced him to complain.

“The people who urged me to make complaints were other business owners who resented the fact that this person was getting away with keeping his whole business on his property,” he said.

The code change essentially defines a “light truck” as an unmodified pickup truck of any weight r any other commercial vehicle that weighs less than 12,000 pounds, whose rear bed equipment is “no wider or taller than the vehicle’s cab.”

It would allow people to park only two commercially registered vehicles that meet those requirements in their driveways, and would also prohibit people from parking trailers that are longer than 18 feet, more than 1,000 pounds or have more than one axle. Box trailers would be illegal.

People would also be able to park one unregistered car for more than a year and up to two boats on their property.

Phyllis Italiano said she’s seen “a noticeable deterioration of my neighborhood in the last few years.”

“There’s more that’s been said about this law than any I’ve witnessed in 12 years here,” she said. “I’m flat out against this law. It’s convoluted and extremely difficult to understand. I have struggled to ferret out its meaning.”

Martin Drew of Springs said many people who’ve lived in Springs a long time have “cowboy equity” in the community and have run small trade business out of their homes for years. He pointed out what he sees as a problem of “people renting houses with three to four families and three to four businesses per home.”

“The Spanish community stick together,” he said. “They’re causing a problem in this community that’s dividing us.” Mr. Drew, who lives in Puerto Rico part of the year, then read a statement in halting Spanish asking people not to park big trucks at their casas, prompting another speaker, Ira Barocas, to urge him to never speak Spanish publicly again.

“It’s really rough,” said Mr. Barocas, adding that he believes the issue with trucks is directly related to other business-related issues such as the town’s proposed ban on formula stores, which all stem from the difficulties of trying to make a living in East Hampton.

“This is a problem with a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We can’t just attack this in a piecemeal way.”

Lona Rubenstein said she thought when she moved here decades ago that pickup trucks were what East Hampton was about. “I’m concerned about ethnic references,” she said of Mr. Drew’s comments, adding that when she first came to town, she was one of seven Jewish families in town and none of the kids in the schools knew anything about Jewish holidays.

“The town is its people and the work force is what keeps it going,” she said. “I’m still disturbed by the ethnic reference. Equal in your mind should be the working class people that live in this town.”

Attorney Tina Piette of Springs read a statement on behalf of a man named Jorge Garcia whom she said was uncomfortable speaking in public.

“He lives in Springs and he has a business,” she said. “A truck does not dictate the value of a property. He sold a property in Springs for twice what he bought it for a few years ago. It’s a myth that it’s devaluing properties.”

She added that Mr. Garcia lets his employees take their trucks home, in part so they’ll be available to work if there’s an emergency. “When people have an emergency, they don’t care the size or the shape of the truck that shows up,” she said.

Stuart Vorpahl said he recently had his property assessed as part of his estate planning, and found out it was worth about 12 times what it was worth 20 years ago, despite the fact that he parks work equipment there. He said he told the assessor he was nuts.

“Because a truck is parked somewhere, that’s going to diminish my property values?” he asked. “No, no, no. That’s not going to happen.”

After more than an hour of testimony, the board closed the public hearing and held the record open for written comment for two weeks.


 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please prove you're human: