It’s been several years and more than a half dozen public hearings since Southampton Town first began working on a Water Protection Plan, but the plan was quietly rolled into the town’s Comprehensive Plan in a unanimous vote by the town board May 3.
The plan has changed quite a bit since first introduced for public hearing in February 2015 — it was originally slated to serve as a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan for Southampton Town, like the LWRPs that help to guide development along the coastlines in Southold and East Hampton Towns, and in Sag Harbor and Greenport villages.
But after outcry from many business owners who said the plan would cede authority to New York State, and from Southampton Town Trustees, already embattled over several court cases that put their authority in question, the town board decided last year to wrap the 13 proposals in the Water Protection Plan into the town’s comprehensive plan.
While the goal of the plan as an LWRP was to give the town more local control over its waterfront, it would first need to be approved by the state, which was the reason for much of the concern.
The new town board has been tabling public hearings on the proposal since they took office in January, as they’ve made numerous changes to the language of the plan.
The new plan has been renamed the Town of Southampton Coastal Resources and Water Protection Plan, a nod to many who wanted to see it address coastal planning issues in light of climate change. It also clarifies areas where Town Trustee rules supersede the water plan’s authorities, and changes much of the language saying the town should take certain actions to read that the town should “consider” those actions.
The plan outlines 13 broad policies that affect not only the immediate coastal and water resources, but also agriculture and energy consumption.
The policies include appropriate development of coastal locations, preserving historic waterfront resources, protecting waterfront vistas, minimizing damage from storms and sea level rise, protecting water quality and supply, protecting ecosystems, improving air quality, minimizing coastal pollution and providing public access to the water.
They also include protecting and promoting water-dependent uses in appropriate areas, promoting sustainable marine fisheries, protecting agricultural land in coastal areas and promotion of energy conservation and renewable energy.
Town Planner Janice Scherer has been working on the plan with outside consultants at the Urban Harbors Institute in Boston for nearly a decade. She seemed visibly relieved at the passage of the plan at the town board’s May 3 meeting.
“I am happy, and I think a lot of other people will be happy,” she said. “All of the legislative actions will now need to be fully vetted and considered by you at a later time.”
Councilwoman Christine Scalera said the Town Trustees are also “very happy” with the changes.
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman thanked former Councilwoman Bridget Fleming for her work on the plan during her tenure on the board.
“Everybody’s happy. It’s nice to see it culminate this way,” said Councilman John Bouvier, who has taken over the reins as sponsor of the bill since Ms. Fleming left the town board to become a Suffolk County Legislator at the start of this year.
The full text of the plan is online here.