The Southampton Town Board Showdown
Southampton’s Town Board race this year brings three political newcomers to the stage in the quest for two seats on the board.
Southampton Republicans are putting up two attorneys, Damon Hagan and incumbant Christine Scalera, this year, while Democrats have chosen two engineers to run for town board.
The four had a chance to share their views on the issues at a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons on Oct. 22 at the Rogers Memorial Library.
Ms. Scalera, who has been an attorney for 25 years and is a former Oyster Bay Councilwoman, touted her record working on water quality issues, a septic rebate program, the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan and the town’s fiscal health during her four years on the board.
Ms. Lofstad, who grew up in Hampton Bays, was an engineer at 1 World Trade Center who came home after September 11, 2001 to work on a commercial fishing business. She also helped start the Southampton and Hampton Bays farmers markets.
She said she is concerned about the town’s drinking water, beaches, oceans and bays, as well as helping local business owners whose livelihoods often depend on the environment.
Mr. Bouvier, who ran for Town Trustee two years ago, is an engineer who also volunteers his time with robotics programs and raises oysters at the SPAT program in Tiana Bay.
“I’m not political, but I do believe in public service,” he said.
Mr. Hagan said he put himself through college and law school working as a commercial fisherman and he believes the current town board has a dismissive attitude toward their constituents. He said he wants to change that.
When asked if they think the town’s rental registry has worked, Ms. Scalera said she believes it could be improved, but the current town board has already made changes, like letting landlords certify the truth of their statements without a visit from a building inspect, that have made the process less onerous.
The Democratic candidates disagreed.
“It obviously is not working right now,” said Ms. Lofstad. “There’s an exploding number of illegal rentals in some hamlets of town.”
Mr. Bouvier said he’s seen long lines at the building department, which he believes has driven rentals in town underground.
“When people come up against a bureaucracy, they feel turned away. It’s prohibitive for them,” he said. “We can work very hard to streamline that process.”
Ms. Scalera said that, if Mr. Bouvier is seeing long lines at the building department, it’s not people looking for rental permits, because those applications are handled through the code enforcement office.”
Moderator Joe Shaw of the Press News Group asked what factors the candidates would take into account before allowing zone changes.
Ms. Lofstad said she would want to know if the project was beneficial to the community.
Mr. Bouvier said zone changes should only be granted in extraordinary circumstances and the town should reexamine its policy on zone changes, particularly with Planned Development Districts, which are under scrutiny now because of a proposed PDD country club in East Quogue.
Mr. Hagan said he believes the town board should make decisions on applications that are put before them, and not place a year-long moratorium on considering projects while they’re studying their effects.
“I think that’s a disservice to you and the community as a whole,” he said of the moratorium. “Part of your job is to make those tough decisions. You’ve gotta be open and receptive to everyone’s ideas.”
He added that he believes the Riverside redevelopment plan is a tremendously beneficial project.
Mr. Bouvier disagreed.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to evaluate a law while you’re still accepting applications,” he said.
Ms. Scalera said the town board approved two planned development districts in the past year. She said the redevelopment of the Canoe Place Inn property and a property across the Shinnecock Canal would help stimulate the economy in Hampton Bays, while the Sandy Hollow Cove project in Tuckahoe would provide needed affordable housing.
On a proposed shopping center on County Road 39 in Tuckahoe, Mr. Bouvier said he’s not in favor of it and would like to see the results a traffic study.
Mr. Hagan jumped quickly on his answer.
“When someone says ‘I’m against it but I’m data driven so I’m waiting for the traffic study,’ that’s a closed-minded approach,” he said. “That’s a mistake and that’s not something you want to have on a town board.”
Ms. Scalera said she’s not in favor of the project because it has “high trip generation.”
“I’m definitely taking a lot of heat because I took this position but that’s my job and that’s ok,” she said.
Ms. Lofstad said she would like to see if residents who had wanted a second grocery store are now happy with the new Stop & Shop that just replaced the Waldbaums in Southampton Village.
Several questions from the audience revolved around the use of gas-powered leafblowers, asking if the town could offer tax incentives for quiet leafblowers, seasonal restrictions on their use, or any other help.
“I’m not a fan of making it difficult for a homeowner to maintain their own home,” said Mr. Hagan. “Our noise ordinance already addresses this issue.”
“Compromise is a good idea,” said Ms. Lofstad. “You can’t stop people from trying to upgrade their yards, but it is a huge annoyance. Time limitations would be a good compromise.”
Mr. Bouvier said he’s in favor of a compromise that involves input from landscapers.
“I use a rake, so for me it’s not something that I really relate to,” he said.
Most of the candidates said they don’t believe now’s a good time to pursue a new town all building.
“We want our employees to be in a safe environment and a comfortable environment,” said Ms. Scalera. “I personally feel there are too many public infrastructure needs right now, particularly our roads.”
Ms. Lofstad said she’d like to see a greater town office presence in Hampton Bays.
“Hampton Bays could use people eating in the restaurants and shopping in the stores, but it would be more traffic and it would have to be studied,” she said.
Mr. Bouvier said he believes it would be too expensive now to build a new town hall, but he believes town records could be archived and modernized to make more room for town employees.
“Ultimately your government is the staff,” he said. “I would consider them first in any decision we might make.”
Mr. Hagan also said he would like to modernize town facilities instead of building a “brand new shiny town hall.”