The race for Southampton Town Supervisor this year pits incumbent Jay Schneiderman against Westhampton resident Ray Overton, who served on the Town Trustees and is has spent his career in construction and property management.
The two shared their thoughts on the future of the town at a debate sponsored by The Southampton Press at the Southampton Arts Center Oct. 12. The debate was moderated by Southampton Press Executive Editor Joseph Shaw.
Mr. Schneiderman is seeking his second two-year term in office. He was elected in 2015 as he reached his term limit of 12 years as the South Fork’s Suffolk County Legislator. Prior to the legislature, he had served as East Hampton Town Supervisor. He had originally set out on a career path as a chemistry teacher.
“I think we’re getting a lot done,” he said. “This is the second budget I’ve submitted as supervisor with a tax rate reduction.”
He added that the town has reduced its indebtedness by $12 million and achieved an AAA bond rating since he took office.
Mr. Schneiderman said the town has also preserved 400 acres of land, passed the repeal of the pdd law, which “undermined public confidence in the planning process by allowing developers to propose whatever they wanted wherever they wanted.” He added that major crime has gone down by 13 percent, and the town has created a new public safety office. He touted the Speonk Commons affordable housing complex. “We really brought the community together, people saying let’s do our part and make a difference.”
Republican challenger Ray Overton, who grew up in Westhampton has spent his life working in construction and property manager, served as a Southampton Town Trustee for two years, during which he was very involved in the effort to ensure the board would survive an onslaught of legal challenges.
“There are many many problems that the can has continually been kicked down the road,” he said of town government. “In my jobs, a pile of problems is put on your desk on a daily basis, and they need to be solved now, not in five years or ten years.”
What to Do About the Traffic Mess
“Change is difficult. Change is happening. We are a victim of our own success,” said Mr. Overton, adding that he’s skeptical of efforts to stem traffic problems by investing in mass transit.
“A tremendous amount of construction and property maintenance goes out there, and they’re not going to be working in hospitals, town hall or schools,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to take care of people who need a truck or trailer with mass transit.”
Mr. Schneiderman said adding more trains to the Long Island Rail Road schedule and creating housing “closer to where the labor demand is, east of the canal,” are important tools to solving traffic issues, along with allowing accessory apartments.
“You can reliably go from Speonk to Montauk in an hour on the train. You can’t do that in a car,” he said. “It’s not going to be a solution to everyone. Contractors who need their tools are not going to be able to get on the train, but it’s going to eliminate some of the traffic on the road.”
Mr. Overton said the demand for property services is so great that “we’re going to have to take a look at creating wider roads.”
“That’s not what anybody wants to hear, but you’re creating a four-lane road when you go on Scuttle Hole and North Sea/Mecox Road,” he said. “In downtown areas, we have great Main Streets, but getting through the lights is a problem. The solution is not going to be one that’s going to be popular.”
Mr. Schneiderman didn’t like that idea.
“I was very involved with the widening of County Road 39. That was a significant game-changer, but I disagree that we should go beyond that,” he said. “It would compromise our rural character. With public transport, buses and Ubers, people can get around.”
“These are not items that are going to be resolved with public transportation,” said Mr. Overton. “If we continue to look at this in that manner, we’re not going to come to a resolution.”
Whither The Hills?
Mr. Shaw asked both candidates their position on the Hills at East Quogue planned development district application, a controversial golf course development that is currently before the town board for a zone change application.
Mr. Overton fully supports the project.
“These are not going to become primary homes. They’re going to have a very minimal impact,” he said. “There isn’t a golf course superintendent in the United States right now who wants to be known for using too much herbicide or pesticide.”
He added that he believes the development will add to the tax base, providing relief for other taxpayers.
Mr. Schneiderman said he had tried to get the land preserved when he was a county legislator, but the county wanted Southampton Town to manage the property, and a prior town board had never passed a resolution accepting that responsibility.
The PDD application has been before the board since before he became supervisor.
“We inherited it, so now I have to consider it,” he said. “As of right, they could build 118 units there.”
He said he didn’t think a golf course was a good use of PDD zoning, but putting blinders on to the unrelated community benefits the developers have offered to the community and the fire department, he wondered if the developers’ decision to preserve a 33 acre property at the headwaters of Weesuck Creek and provide an advanced sewage treatment system for the East Quogue Elementary School would help mitigate any environmental damage from the project. He asked Doctor Christopher Gobler at Stony Brook Southampton, an expert in nitrogen and algae blooms, to run an analysis of the impacts
“He came back with less nitrogen than (with what they can build) as-of-right,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “It’s just math. He plugs in the numbers, and it is what it is.”
“I give the man a lot of credit. The group not supporting the development was certain he was not going to come out against this, but if he was going to stay real, he’s got to come back with the facts,” said Mr. Overton of Dr. Gobler. “He lives in East Quogue. He’s a target. But he went with the facts.”
Mr. Overton said that when he was standing outside of the East Quogue Post Office electioneering, he found people he saw were three-to-one in favor of the project.
Mr. Schneiderman said he doesn’t think anecdotal information about who’s in favor of the project is particularly helpful.
“Where is the public on it? I feel that they are largely divided,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to make an informed decision.”
A New Senior Center?
The town has had difficulty selling property that had housed its senior center in Westhampton, which was put up for public auction with an opening bid of $540,000 in June, but received no takers.
Mr. Schneiderman said that the town could enlist the help of a real estate broker, but would probably not make enough money from the sale to build a new community center, a project that could cost a couple million dollars.
“If it’s a priority” for the board, “we’ll put it in the capital budget,” he said.
Mr. Overton said the existing building, a former American Legion Hall is very close to his house, and is a “haven for the day labor population,” adding that he believes Southampton has given up trying to revitalize the stretch of Mill Road along which it sits, and has not made repairs to a town dock at the other end of Mill Road that “is severely damaged and is no longer safe.”
“The price for that property in that area is probably closer to $200,000 with a demolition permit in hand,” he said.”
Mr. Shaw asked the candidates their views on a recent unsuccessful proposal to build shops and affordable apartments across Montauk Highway from the Bridgehampton Commons.
“Anything that goes in there, any commercial entity, needs an affordable housing component,” said Mr. Overton.
“That’s a great example of a PDD gone bad, with intensification of use,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who added that the original proposal called for 120,000 square feet of building, when the zoning only allows 78,000 square feet.
“It’s now progressing as an as-of-right business, which is not necessarily the best solution,” he said, adding that what can be built there would be more sprawl like exists along County Road 39.
“I think it could be better… It could be a performing arts center, small retail and a downtown area, but on a much smaller scale than was proposed.”
Town Role in Immigration
Mr. Shaw asked the candidates about the town’s interaction with federal agencies in dealing with undocumented immigrants.
“I would not support deputizing police officers as immigration officers,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “One of the main jobs of the town board is to protect public safety. If there’s a fire, I want to make sure people can get out of where they’re living safely. If someone is being sexually abused, I want her to feel safe coming to the police. We need to crate a dialogue with the community.
“There are several people who have been deported who came to our attention because ICE had a warrant,” he added. “They were pretty bad folks, gang members and drug dealers. I don’t feel sorry that they had to leave our country. They should not have been here in the first place.”
Mr. Overton said immigrant workers have long been a part of Southampton’s resort economy.
“The big item is safety with their housing, and safety for all of us,” said Mr. Overton. “It’s not the town’s job to sit here and deport them.”
Mr. Overton added that, as a volunteer firefighter, he’s been involved with taking people out of burning buildings, and he wants to do what he can to make housing safer for everyone.
“If safety is not being met, damn it, the owners have got to be held responsible,” he said. “And people can’t stay there until the safety issues are taken care of.”