Next Thursday, the East Hampton Town Board will convene a hearing on a set of changes to how the town handles applications for structures on farmland and nurseries. The proposed new rules bear close scrutiny.
The revisions would move the authority over such structures from the planning and zoning boards to the architectural review board. While the A.R.B. already has some authority on farmland projects, it would take over sole review of many site plans, temporary greenhouses, farm stands (of up to 500 square feet), and buildings used for agriculture excluding animal husbandry. Instead of certified surveys of the property involved, the A.R.B. would accept a simple description and sketch. Site plan review, which deals with parking and impacts on nearby roads, would be taken away from the far more expert planning board. Going even further, the revisions would allow the A.R.B. chairman to issue waivers allowing the construction of storage structures for feed, fertilizer, crops, and machinery. This kind of unilateral procedure would not be in the community’s best interest.
The basic problem is that the architectural review board is the least rigorous and most informal of the town’s appointed land-use panels. It also makes it more difficult for the public to find out about its activities. Specializing in intentionally fast approvals under its pro-business chairman, Robert Schwagerl, A.R.B. agendas are posted only inside town offices and even then are often not available until it is too late for neighbors of pending projects to become informed about what is going on. In response to a question about this, Mr. Schwagerl said that providing advance public notice would slow down the board and interfere with applicants’ ability to make money in what may be a short season.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley’s proposal to move many farmland projects to the least accountable board has to be viewed in the context of what they believe is their mandate to “streamline” development review. It is unimaginable that the town would go back to the days when permits were handed out willy-nilly, but we fear this could be the result.
At minimum, the public-notice procedures of the architectural review board should be significantly improved to allow for ample time for the public to learn what is before the board — and even to express its disapproval if need be.