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Wainscott: Lines Make Little Sense

Wed, 03/10/2021 - 12:27


In some ways, it is disappointing that an effort among some Wainscott property owners to carve a new incorporated village out of about five square miles of oceanfront, fields, woodland, and lots of expensive real estate may not reach a vote. Public sentiment appears to be against incorporation, but it is hard to know. The breakaway backers were able to get a lot of signatures supporting taking it to a vote, but whether that many people would mark ballots in favor of the new village is the big unknown.

A Wainscott village makes no sense on a map. Unlike Greenport, Sag Harbor, East Hampton Village, and the Village of Southampton, Wainscott has no downtown or obvious core. Its Main Street has only one traffic-generating business on it: a seasonal farm stand. These existing villages make sense because of their higher densities of businesses, residences, and public amenities, such as developed parks, and in Sag Harbor’s case, an active waterfront. Each has multistory buildings on more than one street, some still with apartments. And each has its own specific problems to solve, making the extra level of government and the taxes that go along with that worthwhile. Wainscott, historically, was not a ZIP code stretching from the ocean to beyond East Hampton Airport; rather it was the area immediately around its main street to the Southampton Town line on one end and Georgica Pond on the other.

For what we consider real Wainscott residents as a whole, the core issue should be keeping and improving its setting and scenery by carefully managing building and redevelopment. Over as sprawling an area as the village proponents were forced by state law to put on paper, only a well-resourced entity, such as East Hampton Town government, makes sense. A village board made up of volunteers, as has been proposed, would not be sufficient, though the hands-off approach that could result might be something the village backers actually want.

On environmental matters, of which Wainscott has many, the town’s experienced planning staff and the Natural Resources Department would be difficult and costly to replicate. A village building department would be necessary to oversee both massive residential projects and large projects along Route 27. Land preservation would instantly become uncertain if a village were to happen because the towns, not villages, control how money from the community preservation fund is spent. This is not to say that village officials could not ask the town to step in, but it would add an extra hurdle.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and the town attorneys may have been correct in saying that a recent incorporation petition did not meet the legal standard. And yet it is improbable that the team behind the village-creation drive would get it wrong twice. At some point this will end up in court with a judge deciding whether the town was being nitpicky and whether the vote should go ahead or not. If the village backers choose to press on, at some point there could be a vote. The outcome might be in question, but the arguments for its defeat become clearer with every passing day.

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