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Jul 16, 2019 4:39 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Marguerite Wolffsohn Will Retire After 32 Years In East Hampton Planning Department

East Hampton Town Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn is retiring after 32 years at the town.
Jul 16, 2019 5:20 PM

East Hampton Town Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn will retire this month after 32 years in the town’s planning offices—a time in which the town’s conservative approach to development and land preservation was solidified.

Ms. Wolffsohn joined the town in 1987, during former Supervisor Judith Hope’s tenure, at a time when the town’s Planning Department and former planning director Lisa Liquori were marshaling an onslaught of residential subdivisions like Culloden, Shadmoor and Hither Woods in Montauk and Barcelona in Northwest.

“There were some site plan reviews, but back then the big things that made the newspapers were residential subdivisions,” Ms. Wolfssohn said. “Lots of them.”

She took over as planning director in 2002, and worked with Ms. Liquori—whom she succeeded when her predecessor became a private planning consultant—on the sprawling update to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. That document substantially pared back development potential in many areas of the town as the potential negative stresses of full “buildout” became apparent.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that the residents of East Hampton can give substantial thanks to Ms. Wolffsohn and her colleagues for much of what is most appealing about East Hampton.

“Part of the reason this town remains so beautiful is that the town has adopted sound planning practices, and Marguerite Wolffsohn has been an integral part of that,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said at the Town Board work session on Tuesday, as Ms. Wolffsohn prepared to give a presentation on the ecological diversity of the East Hampton Airport property. “I can’t think of a greater compliment to Marguerite Wolffsohn than to take a look around our town and see how wonderful it is and to acknowledge that she is no small part responsible for that. I know our citizens appreciate the legacy that you’ve left us.”

A graduate of SUNY College of Environment Science and Forestry with a master’s in ecology from C.W. Post, Ms. Wolffsohn came to East Hampton after answering a want ad for a planner. Diversity in backgrounds and expertise of its staff is an important component for a good planning department, she says.

Into a fourth decade in the profession, Ms. Wolffsohn says she has found the work enjoyable and satisfying.

“It’s a good job—I feel like you do some good,” she said on Tuesday. “You learn how things get done—and not done.”

Ms. Wolffsohn was born in Belize and grew up in Levittown. She now lives in East Hampton and said she plans to remain in town in her retirement.

She will be immediately succeeded by senior planner Joanne Pahwul, but Civil Service demands will come to bear on who the town hires to be the new permanent planning director.

As she prepared to leave she offered regular citizens some insight sometimes not realized from the outside.

“I think the most important thing I’d like people to know about what goes on in these buildings, is how much the average person has an influence on what happens,” she said. “These guys, they listen. They really do.”

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