The East Hampton Town Board took an important step last week when it approved a radically new framing of local land-use laws. The changes will not have any immediate effects and are largely symbolic, but they could lead to changes that a growing cross-section of residents demand. Does anyone really think there should be more traffic in East Hampton Town or that its waterways and wild places should be diminished? To answer our own question, there are plenty of people who see such negative outcomes as just another cost of doing business.
For a long time here, there has been a sense that government was not doing enough to prevent unwanted changes. Overbuilding and traffic generally have topped the concerns, with intrusive commercial sprawl along neighborhood streets and environmental degradation right up there as well. Nonetheless, current regulations, the threat of lawsuits, and a lack of willpower among some officials have led to a feeling that the South Fork is rapidly becoming something unfamiliar and often unwanted. People who grew up here and those who chose East Hampton as a vacation home or a place to retire are rightly unhappy, and calls for changes have gotten louder as the construction spreads. There has been a steady demand that growth and change do not exceed what the natural and built environments — the roads, wastewater systems, drinking water, emergency services, and schools — can handle. Despite a half-century of work, the town zoning code has not been up to the task envisioned during its many revisions. Perhaps it will be different this time.
In its recent vote, the East Hampton Town Board accepted a rewriting of a key section of land-use rules. A new preamble to the zoning code replaces the vague goals of previous versions. Among the changes is a call to prevent growth that could harm the environment or exceed the infrastructure necessary to sustain new projects. Several “green” goals are included as well, among them energy conservation and reducing consumption and waste. Following the board’s adoption of the new preamble, work on the specifics of the zoning code will continue.
As with the existing regulations on the books, these, too, might be overlooked or bent by skillful legal maneuvers. Nonetheless, it is time to take on the rules again — the local community consensus, perhaps with the exception of the real estate and building trades, seems to be that enough is enough