Amid a fuss about whether or not a certain restaurant should be allowed to paint its facade the way it wants, one key idea may be overshadowed: the essential role the members of a community’s appointed boards play in maintaining a sense of place at a time of great development pressure.
If the reader has not followed along, the conflict between the owners of Rowdy Hall and the East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board began when the board balked at the lacquer-look black exterior of an Amagansett Main Street space that Rowdy Hall is preparing to occupy. As it had appeared in its East Hampton Village location, the restaurant’s name and some associated lettering and detail work would be painted gold. But the question was if the review board would agree that the color scheme was in line with the requirements of the legally designated historic district within which the site sits.
Much is left up to the board to puzzle out because the town guidelines for the area state: “Colors of historic buildings should be appropriate to their period and style. . . ,” but what style exactly is unclear, since the period and/or style of the particular property is difficult to discern — midcentury commercial, perhaps, if we are being generous. Then comes the real doozy. Also under the town code, paint and exterior finishes “should harmonize” with those generally found elsewhere in the historic district. The board decided that shiny black, as Rowdy Hall wanted, was not in keeping. Discussion of the matter is anticipated this afternoon, when the architectural review board meets at 4 in Town Hall.
Whether or not the A.R.B. likes it, a lawyer representing Rowdy Hall is probably correct in saying that town law is too vague on the subject of exterior building color for black to be denied. Day-glo green might not harmonize, but, as the saying goes (especially among New Yorkers), black goes with everything. It is up to the East Hampton Town Board to get more specific than that, as has been done elsewhere.
More broadly, where the trouble lies for us is a sense of public outrage that the debate is just another example of government overreach. It is not, and we all should be reminded that the only people who stand in the way of the kind of unwanted hodgepodge development of much of the rest of Long Island are town officials, elected or appointed, who give of their time to public service. They, and their A.R.B. colleagues, notably on the zoning board of appeals and planning board, fight the good fight. The elusive “character” of the town and our quality of life comes down to the decisions they make about individual properties. East Hampton Town still is a fine place to live and a popular destination for visitors. These folks, who are our family, friends, and neighbors, help keep it that way.