Pictured Above: 2021 Southold Town Board Candidates (l-r): Brian Mealy, Greg Doroski, Anthony Sannino and Greg Williams.
This is bound to be a feisty town election season across the East End, and nowhere more so than in Southold Town, with a fresh crop of candidates who have not yet held town office vying for two spots on the Town Board.
Two incumbent councilmen, Conservative Jim Dinizio and Repubican Bob Ghosio, have declined to run again, amidst a wave of newly registered Democratic voters that just last year shifted the balance of the electorate in their favor in this historically Republican stronghold.
Anthnony Sannino, a former builder who owns the Sannino Bella Vita vineyard in Cutchogue, and Greg Williams, who owns Country Time Cycle in Mattituck, have been tapped by the GOP to run for the two seats, while longtime Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board member Brian Mealy, and Greenport Harbor Brewing Company Innovations Director Greg Doroski are the Democratic candidates.
Two years ago, Mr. Doroski ran for Southold Town Supervisor, and came within 113 votes of beating incumbent Republican Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who is not up for re-election this year.
The four candidates squared off in a wide-ranging forum at the Veterans Beach community room organized by the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association on Monday, Sept. 27.
Topping the concerns of questioners and candidates is the dramatic increase in the popularity of Southold Town as a vacation and second homeowner community, and the development pressures associated with that newfound popularity.
“On the track we’re going on now, it’s just going to turn into the Hamptons,” said Mr. Mealy in his opening statement, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the forum.
Moderator David Perrin asked the candidates a series of eight in-depth questions, followed by an eight-yes-or-no question lightning round.
He asked what code changes the candidates would like to see made to align with town’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted two years ago after being in the works for 10 years.
“Affordable housing is very important to me,” said Mr. Williams. “We should dig into the code to look for opportunities for private businesses to create affordable housing in downtown areas.”
Mr. Sannino didn’t know what to say.
“I’m not well-versed with all of the comprehensive plan. I’m stumped. I’m going to have to pass on this one,” he said.
“The Comp Plan took 10 years. Initially, it was only supposed to take two years,” said Mr. Doroski. “Talking strategy is for amateurs, but execution is for professionals. I would think Mr. Sannino would be aware that our code has contradictory definitions when it comes to agricultural uses. If there are contradictions, it leads us down a path of uncertainty, which is no good. We need to start with a comprehensive build-out analysis of Southold Town.”
“It took 10 years to come out. My problem with it is basically ‘is it accurate? Is it a plan, or is it a used-to-be plan?’” said Mr. Mealy. “There’s no excuse to have a Comp Pan that’s over 10 years old. It has to be reviewed.”
On the current town government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Democrats were unhappy but the Republican candidates said the town did a good job.
“It took Southold Town four months to hold a Zoom meeting. It took my congregation a few weeks,” said Mr. Doroski. “I work at the business that had the first case. We were there first thing in the morning solving problems. We brought in a professional cleaning crew, put policies and procedures in place and kept our business running. We saw our town government treading water. Four months to get on Zoom is insane to me. It’s unacceptable. People were lined up in the streets to get beach parking stickers. I think we need to do better.”
Mr. Sannino said he was heartened when he and several other business owners were contacted by Town Supervisor Scott Russell early in the pandemic for a round-table discussion on business needs.
“I couldn’t believe the town supervisor was reaching out,” he said “My experience was the town was trying to help.”
Mr. Mealy said that he worked with the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District to become one of the fastest schools to safely reopen after the lockdown.
“We helped keep companies like the Sunrise Bus Company from going out of business. We kept school going, kept the kids safe and the teachers safe,” he said. “But the lack of response in Town Hall —phones were ringing off the hook, there was no procedure, no way people could go in safely to make sure they could answer the phone. Where is the emergency response plan when you have an emergency? It wasn’t sufficient. It was an act of god, but we have to learn from our mistakes.”
“Overall, I’m satisfied with the way the town handled it,” said Mr. Williams. “It’s very easy to play Monday morning quarterback. It was very scary and unnerving, but we all made it through… Everybody seemed a lot nicer, polite and cautious, and they spent time with their families.”
On the town’s use of eminent domain proceedings to try to wrest the property on the corner of New Suffolk Avenue and the Main Road in Mattituck from the hands of the Brinkmann’s Hardware company, candidates had mixed feelings.
“This parcel was called out for preservation by the community more than a decade before the Brinkmanns submitted their plan. We had opportunities to preserve this. We just dropped the ball,” said Mr. Doroski. “We’re using the biggest hammer in our toolbox as a cover for our own inaction. We’re taking someone’s private property because we could not do our job as a town government.”
“I don’t think the town could have had a crystal ball ten years ago to know this would be a problem,” said Mr. Sannino. “The opportunities were there, but financially the property wasn’t at the right price point and the town did what it could do. I have mixed feelings about eminent domain.”
“I’m not sure what our chances are of winning that expensive case,” said Mr. Mealy of ongoing litigation between the town and the Brinkmanns. “We really missed an opportunity. It’s not hopeless. We have to learn from our mistakes.:
“We can’t use CPF money to overpay for land,” said Mr. Williams. “To preserve and buy property, you need a willing seller. It’s not an easy thing to weigh in on.”
On how to address affordable housing, Mr. Williams reiterated his support for working to develop properties in hamlet centers, perhaps with retail downstairs and apartments upstairs.
Mr. Doroski said he would eliminate the town’s inclusionary zoning buy-out, which lets developers pay into a fund rather than build a percentage of affordable houses into their subdivisions.
“The people building these home are those best suited to build affordable homes,” he said.
Mr. Sannino said that, as a former builder, he would expect the town’s planners to assist developers in finding the best locations for affordable housing, adding that it would ideally be located near Greenport where it could tie into the village’s sewer system.
Mr. Mealy said it was important to bring everyone to the table to learn about affordable housing.
“When they built The Cottages in Mattituck, a lot of people had their pitchforks out,” thinking it would ruin the community, he said. “It’s beautiful, and property values have increased. Our community is woefully miseducated about affordable housing.”
On their top priorities, Mr. Doroski said he would focus on planning, taking action on planning ideas, and “addressing the looming threat of climate change.”
“The problems facing our community are picking up speed, but they’re not new,” he said.
Mr. Williams said that, on the stump, the biggest issues he’s heard people bring up are the condition of the roads and overpopulation of deer.
“I will personally get involved with the town highway department so that road quality will improve,” he said, adding that he would also like to see smaller pieces of land preserved.
Mr. Mealy said he’d like to provide better ways for the community to engage with town government, he plans to listen to the community, and he wants to address affordable housing.
“As a growing town, we’re dead ducks if we don’t have an affordable housing plan,” he said.
Mr. Sannino said he’d like to see more agricultural land preserved, and more synergy with the local police to help ease traffic problems surrounding agritainment businesses.
On a proposed hotel at the former Capital One Bank headquarters on Route 25 in Mattituck, Mr. Sannino said he believes having more lodging options here would cut down on the number of day trippers to the area, which would help local businesses.
Mr. Mealy was not so optimistic.
“I probably would have to keep a pillow and blanket in my car to get past McDonalds,” he said. “Overdevelopment is going to cripple us. We live in heaven, and a lot of people realize that. I’m not opposed to business, but I am opposed to lack of planning.”
He added that a developer who caught his ear recently told him that “Southold has some of the most lax zoning in Suffolk County and that’s why you are going to be overrun.”
“I don’t want to be overrun,” he said.
“We are a victim of our own success. We have been marketing tourism for many, many years, and now everybody is coming out here,” said Mr. Wiliams. “Farms are agritainment centers now. Nobody is buying Long Island potatoes anymore. That ship has sailed. Don’t plan to go to Riverhead on Columbus Day Weekend. That’s my advice.”
“I find it strange that my opponent would defend the status quo,” said Mr. Doroski. “The status quo isn’t working here.”
“Greg referred to us as victims of our own success. I am unwilling to accept that victim mentality of letting things happen to us,” he added. —BHY
Upcoming Debates & Voter Info:
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association will hold its second forum with candidates for trustee, highway superintendent, and clerk at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25, at the Veterans Park Community Room. Questions may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The East Marion Community Association and Orient Association are planning Zoom Southold candidate forums, the first with Council, Clerk and Highway candidates on Saturday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon, at this link, and the second, with Trustee candidates, on Monday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., at this link. The Jamesport Civic Association will also be hosting a candidate forum with Riverhead Town candidates on Thursday, Oct. 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Jamesport Meeting House, 1590 Main Road in Jamesport.
The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and North Fork has also announced its debate schedule, with Zoom debates scheduled for Southampton Town Board on Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., for Suffolk County Legislature on Monday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. and for East Hampton Town Board on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. The debates can be viewed on LTV and Sea-TV’s YouTube channels. Stay tuned to eastendbeacon.com for updated debate coverage and listings.
The mail-in deadline to register to vote is Oct. 8. The mail-in deadline for absentee ballot applications is Oct. 18, while the postmark deadline to return absentee ballots is Election Day, Nov. 2. East End early voting sites, from October 23 to 31, will be Windmill Village, 219 Accabonac Rd. in East Hampton; Stony Brook Southampton University campus gym, 70 Tuckahoe Rd. in Southampton; the Southold Senior Center at 750 Pacific St. in Mattituck and the Riverhead Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue. There is no early voting site on Shelter Island. Voters registered in Suffolk County may vote at any of the 12 early voting sites in the county.