Another month, another shot in the Botox-ing of East Hampton Village. Coming up on Oct. 15, the village board will take comments on a proposal that would mandate property-maintenance standards more in keeping with some creepy cinematic utopian suburb than a living, breathing community where people of all stripes and economic backgrounds are welcome.
Let’s start by saying that some of the new measures make good sense. Removing stagnant water in which mosquitoes like to lay eggs, and getting rid of fast-spreading bamboo, are worthwhile initiatives and obviously in the greater public interest. Some of the other proposed rules, at first glance, might appear benign, too: These call for the removal of “litter, debris, paper, dirt, garbage, and junk” from private properties and ban the storage of unregistered vehicles outdoors (including automobiles, trucks, trailers, and boats). But pause to consider: What is “dirt’? A compost pile? With “insects” on the hit list alongside vermin and rodents, can a village resident be a beekeeper? What happens to the backyard mechanic who only wants to spend his Sunday tinkering on a defunct vintage truck in peace? If some of this isn’t rank classism, we’ll eat our trucker caps.
And how do the mayor and his circle envision the new rules being enforced? Presumably, neighbors will call Village Hall to report that Mr. Smith has a dinghy in his backyard. The proposal says that the building inspector “or enforcement officials” will suss out violations. Will the new “village constables” — a recently established title, who are to act not just as traffic-control officers but be tasked with patrolling the village “by foot or vehicle, noting violations” of state or local law — be found creeping up driveways and around private spaces with binoculars but without warrants? Big Brother, no thank you.
A hardship-exemption hearing with the building inspector could be sought — by, say, backyard mechanics without sufficient indoor garage space, or, say, a hobbyist who has kept a stack of wood pallets handy for a Pinterest flower-box project — but having to go to a hearing is an egregious imposition for someone doing nothing wrong other than some wholesome D.I.Y.
Multifamily and commercial properties’ owners must keep driveways and parking spaces “covered with a dustless free surface” (whatever that is) and “cleaned regularly.” Does this mean we get to whip out our banned leaf-blowers again? Complying might seem easy enough if you have the money, but what if you don’t? Or you are elderly? Or you just happen to prefer the old-fashioned look of a grass-and-dirt driveway? Watch out, Mulford Farm! Your traditional crushed-shell driveway doesn’t look dustless to us.
And what about Rule 225-2 E, which says owners of properties abutting a street or road shall not permit trees (or other plants) “to overhang the property line”? Does not every lane in the village have a leafy canopy made up at least partially of privately owned trees that reach out across property lines and above the roadway, and is that not a thing of beauty? Rule 225-3 says property owners must keep “all and every part of the building and accessory structures in attractive condition and good repair.” Okay, so, what is “attractive condition”? Do we really want inspectors making aesthetic determinations? (And, if so, can we report our neighbors in their spanking new Postmodernist mansion for crimes against good taste?)
Make no mistake, this is not just “a taste issue,” as they say on reality-television design competitions. It is not just a blast in the culture war. It is flat-out draconian — and not at all in keeping with our traditional standards of what you can and cannot do on your own dang private property. East Hampton Village has a history as a farming community, and while agriculture days are obviously long gone, a rural look has always been our ideal. This is not Seaside, Fla., and we are not living in “The Truman Show.”