The Westhampton Free Library was packed Thursday night with residents anxious to hear the ideas espoused by the two candidates vying to fill Brad Bender’s seat on the Southampton Town Board.
A special election to fill the seat Mr. Bender vacated after he was charged in November with conspiring to sell prescription drug pills will be held next Tuesday, Jan. 26 at regular polling places throughout Southampton Town.
Richard Yastrzemski, a financial advisor and deputy mayor of Southampton Village who ran unsuccessfully for Town Supervisor last fall, is the Republican nominee for the post.
Hampton Bays native Julie Lofstad, an engineer who worked for the Port Authority at the World Trade Center but returned home to manage her husband’s commercial fishing business after September 11, 2001, is running on the Democratic, Independence and Conservative party lines.
Ms. Lofstad said in her opening statements that she plans to fight for small businesses, renters who want to live in safe houses, and for the rural character and beaches and oceans of the town.
Mr. Yastrzemski said that he believes a candidate who fills a seat vacated under such “stupid circumstances” can’t be someone who needs on the job training to get up to speed on town issues.
“I can sit there on Jan. 27 and get this rolling. I do not need on the job training,” he said. “I’m the man for the job. i have the experience and the drive and the knowledge.”
The debate was hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, whose representative, Susan Wilson, asked questions of the candidates, along with Sag Harbor Express publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan.
The two candidates had differing views on the need for a moratorium on planned development district proposals in town, an issue that has been of concern due to the debate over a PDD request for a proposed 550-acre golf course community known as The Hills in East Quogue.
Ms. Lofstad said she’d be in favor of a one-year moratorium, while the town tightens up its PDD legislation.
“Then we can go forward from there so it can be used with the intent it was first intended for,” she said.
Mr. Yastrzemski isn’t in favor of this moratorium.
“I don’t think this is where it’s appropriate,” he said. “Each project individually needs to be evaluated. It is imperative as an elected person that we look at each scenario individually.”
“I just feel that reviewing a project when the legislation is not right is a waste of the public’s money,” countered Ms. Lofstad.
When asked to define what a “public benefit” of a Planned Development District would be, Mr. Yastrzemski said the benefit would have a positive impact on the environment or the economy. He pointed out the PDD at Gabreski Airport as an example of a successful project.
Ms. Lofstad said she believes a public benefit “should serve a critical need — a hospital or workforce housing.”
“The community should be behind it as well,” she added.
When asked how they would manage potential increased traffic at Gabreski Airport due to East Hampton Town’s new and proposed restrictions at their municipal airport, Ms. Lofstad said she believes Southampton should sit down with the community and users of Gabreski Airport and put noise abatement measures in place before aircraft noise becomes a problem.
Mr. Yastrzemski said he has first-hand experience with the issue because of a helipad in Southampton Village.
“There are mechanisms in place where we’re trying to understand what the impact would be to neighboring airports,” he said.
Both candidates said they believe Southampton could do a better job addressing unsafe and overcrowded housing.
“Enforcement has been lax, patrolling of police has been lax, and we’ve been lax on the judicial part of it,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “We need to provide manpower, back those people, and follow it through in the judicial process.”
“People don’t want any more than to have the code and law of the Town of Southampton enforced and to have judicial backup,” said Ms. Lofstad. “When there are landlords acting contrary to the code, they need to be held accountable.”
Both candidates said they believe three proposed high-density apartment complexes on North Phillips Avenue in Speonk is too much.
“I think it’s too much,” said Ms. Lofstad. “It would require increased services, and there would be impacts on schools and traffic. It needs to be looked at and not just given the go-ahead.”
Mr. Yastrzemski agreed.
“The advantage to this is that it has not gotten off the ground yet, and we can stop it before it happens,” he said.
The candidates had differing views on new Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s proposal to make it easier for people to rent accessory housing on their properties.
Mr. Yastrzemski said he believes the idea looks good in theory, but he believes affordable housing should be ownership based. He added that communities like Hampton Bays, where people often already rent accessory apartments, have created problems for code enforcement.
Ms. Lofstad, who ran on Mr. Schneiderman’s ticket last November, said that “work-force housing is part of our platform.”
“We have to focus in where the work force is, in the eastern half of the town,” she said. “It’s a good program if implemented properly.”
Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates what personal values they would bring to the board.
“That’s vague and ambiguous,” said Mr. Yastrzemski.
“What I bring to the board over my opponent is that I’m here to see people in the community improve, grow, get jobs, stay and live here,” he said. “That’s really what we’re about. That’s what we do.”
Ms. Lofstad said she wants to work as a community advocate.
“This is about true advocacy, where I want to help my neighbor,” she said. “That is one of the most important things. When your heart tells you that you have to help your neighbor, that to me is the most important thing.”
When asked what they like and don’t like about the way Mr. Schneiderman leads, Mr. Yastrzemski said “he’s been around and he brings a lot of knowledge in. There’s no doubt about it.”
“I don’t dislike the gentleman, but i ran against him,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “He’s been a member of every party out there and has managed to be employed and re-elected for 20 years… He’s been working at the county for close to two decades, and he’s a little disconnected with the local community.”
Ms. Lofstad said she first met Jay Schneiderman when he was working as a county legislator to have the homeless sex offender trailers removed from Riverside.
“He’s’ a thoughtful guy. He’s a smart guy,” she said. “Some people hold it against him that he’s been in politics a long time, but I think that’s a good thing. As of right now, I can’t think of anything that I dislike.”
On beach preservation, Ms. Lofstad said that she doesn’t believe beach hardening structures work.
Mr. Yastrzemski said he believes it is important for towns and villages to have good relationships with the Town Trustees.
When asked if they would adopt the town’s long languishing Water Protection Plan, fostered by former Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who has now taken Mr. Schneiderman’s seat on the county legislature, the candidates had mixed views. The town board may vote in February on whether to adopt the plan.
“I think the water protection plan is a great plan,” said Ms. Lofstad. “It addresses so many things…. I just can’t stress enough to make sure that we protect that resource. It means everything to us.”
Mr. Yastrzemski echoed the views of many Southampton business owners who opposed the plan when it was originally drafted as a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, saying it would increase state oversight of Southampton’s waterways.
While the plan would need to be initially submitted to New York State for approval, once adopted it would give the town more control over its local waters. But that nuance has been lost on many of the plan’s opponents.
“The biggest thing that bothered me about the previous proposal is about home rule,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “Going up to higher level, to the county or the state, usually I’m not a fan of that, and local government is not a fan of that.”
When asked about the town’s current police staffing levels, Mr. Yastrzemski said the town doesn’t have enough manpower and he “would like to see more boots on the ground.”
Ms. Lofstad said this year’s budget calls for the addition of two new police officers, and the state has committed new troopers to the East End, and if the town needs more staffing, “we’ll look from there and keep an eye on things.”
In their closing statements, Mr. Yastrzemski said the town has been faced with “two months of ineffective government” since Mr. Bender resigned.
“You’re getting shafted. The taxpayer cannot afford this,” he said.
Ms. Lofstad said that she’s a fighter, who fights for small businesses, water and kids, and she has experience in management of government agencies, non-profits and businesses.
“We need to work together to make our towns stronger,” she said.
The special election is next Tuesday, Jan. 26.