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Oct 22, 2019 11:21 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Supervisor Candidates Differ On Affordable Housing Approach For East Hampton, Among Other Things

Betsy Bambrick, Bonnie Brady and David Lys at the League of Women Voters debate last week.
Oct 22, 2019 2:05 PM
The candidates for East Hampton Town Board tried to draw clear lines defining their differences in experience and policy positions at a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons debate in East Hampton Village last week.
The supervisor candidates — challenger David Gruber and Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who is seeking reelection to a second term — wrestled with where they stand on some of the most vexing issues facing the town, like housing and airport noise. The council candidates, meanwhile, each touted their backgrounds as evidence of their fitness for the two council seats on the ballot and explained their stances on a variety of issues.
Supervisor Candidates 
On Housing Shortages
The two supervisor candidates demonstrated their starkest differences on the issue of how the need for more affordable housing should be approached.
Mr. Gruber has said throughout the campaign that he believes the only way to create housing that young people and those in “low-income” brackets can afford is to create large-format, high-density apartment buildings. He has repeatedly pointed to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which said, more than 15 years ago, that the town needed at least 1,300 additional units of affordable housing — a need that he says has certainly grown in the ensuing years.
His pitch has been that securing a total of 80 acres of land, in various locations around town, would let the town build hundreds of units in scattered three-story buildings. It is only through that level of density that the cost of land can be spread out enough to bring the cost of their living units down to $600 a month for a studio apartment and $1,200 a month for a unit suitable for a small family, he surmised at the debate, which was held at the East Hampton Library last Wednesday, October 16.
“We need to recognize the economic reality, and that means building in an affordable way,” he said. “It will not be tragic. They have three-story buildings in Sag Harbor. The only way we’re going to solve the problem of affordable housing is if we build housing.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc has said he thinks this approach would be a mistake. Calling the strategy “zone busting,” he said that he believes the town should continue chipping away at the need with smaller projects and, hopefully, with the help of a new affordable housing funding source, with a stepped-up effort at staving off gentrification by securing more existing single-family homes in residential districts to be resold at subsidized rates.
Mr. Van Scoyoc emphasized that, after a long hiatus, the town now has 50 subsidized units in the pipeline — 12 condominium units on Accabonac Road in East Hampton that are close to being sold, and 37 rental apartments under construction in Amagansett — and that his administration has recently announced contracts to purchase two more lots in Wainscott for a future development that could create dozens more units and has others in its sights. He also nodded to legislative changes intended to incentivize the creation of more rental apartments at private homes and above businesses.
He said he looks hopefully to state legislation that could create an affordable housing fund with a tax on the region’s billions in annual real estate transactions that could be used to allow the town to purchase single-family homes, since much of the hurdle in housing is for those in middle-income ranges who simply can’t afford to purchase homes at prices inflated by the second-home market.
“I don’t think we can build our way out of this problem,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “It’s not all low income.”
On The Traffic Mess
The two men also split over how to tackle the seemingly ever-increasing traffic jams that clog local roads for more and more weeks each year.
Mr. Gruber said he believes the key is a more aggressive approach to reining in the misuse of housing. He said he thinks traffic tangles are caused in part by an explosion in the actual summer-season population thanks to more — and often illegal — rentals of homes through online sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Vrbo.
He said that stepping up enforcement of rental laws to tamp down short-term rentals would help tame the volume of cars on the road. He also said the town should commission a study of motorists and their daily trips that would be helpful in tackling the issue.
“There’s no good way to back up … but I do believe we have a problem with more illegal housing than we used to have,” said Mr. Gruber, who noted that where his street intersects with Route 114 is often blocked by long queues of cars waiting to turn onto Stephen Hand’s Path. “We have to get much tougher, including enforcing the rules against Airbnb.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc blamed the traffic on a simple increase in the use of vacation homes and the explosion of service industry demands for homes.
“I don’t believe it is simply illegal housing — it’s more housing and a lot more people using them,” he said. “Part of the reason we have so much traffic is that every household now has eight to 10 commercial services coming to work on the house.”
He said that the town has started to reduce car trips on roads already by introducing a commuter bus route in Montauk and participating in the East End Commuter Connection program. Finding more ways to give commuters and residents alternatives to driving will be the key to easing the strain on downtown gridlock and travel delays, he said.
On The Airport
Both Mr. Van Scoyoc and Mr. Gruber have been consistent in their position that the traffic at East Hampton Airport has become an unsustainable nuisance for residents.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he thinks the town’s struggle to regain control is only going to find new legs — following a years-long legal effort that died on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court — when federal grant assurance requirements expire in 2021 and the town will have the power to close the airport, giving the town a key bargaining chip in its negotiations with the FAA.
“I think that’s where we’re going to end up in 2021,” he said.
Mr. Gruber called that approach “playing chicken with the FAA” and said he believes the town needs to press forward with a so-called Part 161 application to the Federal Aviation Administration, requesting new restrictions on the number of charter shuttle flights back and forth to New York City, which has exploded in the last 15 years.
“This is a socially unimportant activity that adds little to no economic value to the community,” he said. “The price they extract for the few minutes they save to get to their homes is too high.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc noted that a Part 161 application, which could cost more than $1.5 million to complete, has never been successful for the smattering of municipalities that have made the costly appeals in the past.
Council Candidates 
Make Their Case
All of the four candidates for Town Council in the race made the case for being returned or elevated to the Town Board based on their past records.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, a Democrat, spotlighted projects that she has advanced across the goal line during her eight years on the board, like the long-dormant Accabonac Manor Homes affordable housing project, the comprehensive hamlet studies, and the resurrection of the Anti-Bias Task Force.
Betsy Bambrick, the former head of the town’s Code Enforcement Department, spotlighted her firm political independence and past role on the town’s Board of Ethics. “I consider myself to be a member of ‘Team East Hampton,’” she said. “Not unlike the League of Women Voters, I remain nonpartisan.”
Bonnie Brady, the other challenger endorsed by the Independence Party, detailed her long history of working for community good, from national political campaigns to the Peace Corps in Africa, to being a local newspaper reporter, an emergency medical technician and paramedic for the Montauk Fire Department — where she led a grant effort to get the first portable AED machines in Suffolk County delivered to Montauk — and for the last 20 years as an advocate for commercial fishermen throughout Long Island.
Councilman David Lys hung his hat on his record of achievement during his two years on the Town Board and before. “I’ve proven that I can get things done by bringing people together,” he said.
Council Candidates On 
Deer Population Control
With the issue of controlling the deer population a topic of questions during each of the Town Board debates this year, the council candidates had differing views about how populations should be controlled and about other changes that could ease the safety concerns of motorists.
Mr. Lys said that the town should be conducting “deer exclosure” experiments to determine how the current deer population is impacting the ecology of East Hampton’s wooded areas and the diversity of other wildlife.
Ms. Overby said she was not in favor of an organized “cull” of deer — some other municipalities, and the state, have tried using contracted sharpshooters — but does believe that hunting should be encouraged as a method of thinning the wild herd.
Ms. Bambrick said even though she has had Lyme disease on more than one occasion and has contracted the Alpha-gal allergy from tick bites, she “holds no ill will” toward deer. She said deer problems are exacerbated by poorly enforced fencing laws that are not ensuring the deer have travel lanes between properties, so that they are not forced into streets. She said that a cull may be necessary.
Ms. Brady said she would not object to a cull, with the meat distributed to local food pantries, but noted that that presents a number of logistical hurdles. She also said she would be in favor of testing the “four-poster” system, which uses bait to attract deer to a contraption that douses them with a chemical that kills ticks.
On Needs Of Seniors
Ms. Bambrick, who works for the St. Michael’s senior housing complex in Amagansett, has repeatedly said during the campaign that she thinks more such developments are needed throughout the town to help seniors remain in the community and lead full lives.
Ms. Brady said the town desperately needs an expansion of local health care services for seniors — mental heath services, in particular — so that they don’t have to spend hours on buses to get to doctors in distant towns.
Mr. Lys said the current Town Board is looking into the possibility of creating an assisted living facility in the town and said he plans to push for the creation of more handicapped-accessible trails in local woods.
Ms. Overby said the incumbents have been working diligently on plans to build a new senior center and called the town’s recent allowance of accessory apartments to be created in homes a “very elegant solution” to part of the housing shortage and a way for seniors to “age in place” by renting out their homes for income.
Last week’s debate was the final debate before the November 5 election.

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