For Our Youth
January 15, 2024
As a mother of two young children residing in East Hampton, I am writing to express my enthusiastic support for the proposed building project by Project Most. The organization has become a cornerstone of our community for its commitment to providing affordable and no-cost after-school, summer, and school vacation programming for local children and families.
The significance of Project Most’s services cannot be overstated, especially in an area where the cost of alternative programming is prohibitively expensive for many families. Their efforts not only offer essential educational and developmental opportunities for our youth but also provide invaluable support to working parents who strive to balance professional and family responsibilities.
The proposed building project is a necessary step to expand and enhance these crucial services. It will enable Project Most to accommodate more children, offer a wider range of programs, and continue their mission of nurturing the potential of each child in East Hampton. The permanence of the proposed building will allow them to plan far into the future.
I urge the East Hampton Planning Board to recognize the value that this project will bring to our community and to support its realization. By approving this project, you will be investing in the future of our children and the well-being of our community for generations to come.
To join me in showing your support, please reach out to members of the Planning Board at [email protected] or by joining the Sign Your Name campaign linked at projectmost.org.
Happy to Attend
January 14, 2024
According to the United States Census, the older population increased by 50.9 million, from 4.9 million (or 4.7 percent of the total U.S. population) in 1920 to 55.8 million (16.8 percent) in 2020. This represents a growth rate of about 1,000 percent, almost five times that of the total population (about 200 percent).
As someone who has started looking into this for personal reasons, the cost of assisted living is staggering. As a recent Times article points out, most of us cannot afford it. As a consequence, people opt for aging in place, which puts horrible strains on family members who must provide attention, food prep, and manage social services for their elderly relatives. Aging in place also turns out to be psychologically better for most of us.
This is why senior centers can be so important. They provide hot meals, recreation, mental stimulation for the elderly, and they centralize social services. The fact that the town wants to do this in a modern, up-to-date, environmentally friendly place is commendable.
As for the size, I believe it’s comparable to the East Hampton Y.M.C.A. RECenter. On busy days, the RECenter always felt cramped to me when I used to use it, and it’s hard to believe that our country’s fastest-growing age demographic will leave the new senior center underused.
The new center will provide seniors, for free, the wellness activities we older adults need. There will be hot meals prepared in a modern kitchen. (It will also house the town’s Meals on Wheels program.) There will be a wide selection of cultural activities in a contemporary, environmentally friendly, well-designed site. Sadly, the current senior center is not a place where I want to spend any time. I would, however, be happy to attend a free fitness, yoga, or tai chi class in the Ross Barney–designed building. This award-winning architectural team is known for its environmentally intelligent, community-sensitive design. The site plan presented to the planning board seems to bear this out.
Looking at my area of interest, I see an admirable effort to maintain as many existing trees as possible on the site, to use permeable hardscaping where possible, to replant native trees and prairie meadows. Solar arrays in the parking area will provide energy efficiency and prevent the “heat island” effect familiar to open parking areas. Over all, this seems a real effort to create a sustainably designed, welcoming space.
Costs? Out of curiosity, I checked the cost of a proposed new Y in Riverhead. [Riverhead] Town is projecting between $20 to $40 million. I’ll leave this cost question to the more expert to discuss. But it seems to me, investing in our rapidly growing elderly population makes perfect sense.
Feds and Bats
January 14, 2024
I, and other taxpaying citizens of East Hampton, have reacted with surprise and alarm to the potential decision of our town board to declare itself exempt from East Hampton’s own zoning, planning, and architectural review board regulations regarding construction of a huge $32-million senior center. We wonder, what could be pressuring the newly appointed board members to deliberately violate the accepted principles by which all major construction in our town must abide? Why would they invite accusations of dereliction and reckless improbity?
We may safely assume that it’s not our population of needy elders that is a source of the board’s urgency — it’s been well over five years since the board members had to scrap their original plan for a senior center.
About that failure, the old folks have been — not surprisingly — quiescent.
Think about it: Is a timeline crunch being applied by Ronnette Riley, the architect for the project, who has brought on other high-end firms and who is also head of the the Artists and Writers Softball Game board and thus associated with hundreds of the glitterati attached to our town? Smart money says R2 and her glitterati won’t be using the new senior center. However, although the Ronnette cap doubtless wants the feather, it can’t be the whole story; surely the time pressure that’s evident in this current set of profligate board decisions can’t be ascribed to Ms. Riley’s submission to the town of a world-class architectural/engineering proposal, one which the board perhaps sees as a feather in its own cap.
Nope. Here’s the answer: On Nov. 30, 2022, the northern long-eared bat was reclassified from “threatened” to “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act. These bats are listed as omnipresent in Suffolk County, where they hibernate underground from Nov. 15 to Feb. 28, during which time the forest clearing for the senior center is permitted. However, from March 1 onward, when the bats reside above ground in trees, “forest management activities,” such as clearing the projected Abraham’s Path site, are illegal. According to Setliff Law (experts in the field), if you are in an area where the northern long-eared bat may be found, and you still wish to proceed with your forest-management project, you must conduct a survey (either acoustic or mist-netting) of the area between March 1 and Nov. 15. Additionally, all requisite federal and state permits are required. For the town, violation of the Endangered Species Act can carry serious financial and licensure implications. This is a big deal, just saying.
The town must destroy the Abraham’s Path northern long-eared bats’ habitat before March 1 or they’ll run afoul of the department of environmental conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and suffer ignominy, and huge fines will be charged to the town. That’s why they want to exempt themselves from zoning, planning, and architectural review board procedures. That’s why they’re shutting out any time-consuming but justifiable citizen input, and denying any careful consideration via their own regulatory processes. They want to bend the official knee to those who matter, and it’s not East Hampton’s elders and it’s not East Hampton’s taxpayers.
The town board needs to slow down, publicly address the actual issues, deal with the Feds and the bats, and show themselves worthy of our respect, our tax dollars, and our votes.
January 14, 2024
In the winter of 2013, Mary Ella Moeller and I met with newly elected Supervisor Larry Cantwell. We asked him to form a senior-services committee to address how the town would plan for the very large and growing numbers of senior citizens revealed by the 2010 census. We delivered a report the following September.
Since then, I have watched our recommendations ignored and modified to the point of turning this effort into a fiasco.
Here are some of the milestones.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez was appointed liaison to the committee. After meeting with several of the town agencies, I suggested several different potential sites for a new community center with an emphasis on providing senior services. These were sites where adequate senior housing could be combined with services.
Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez decided to ignore this emphasis and concentrated on building a new senior center at the existing site with nearly half the space devoted to offices for town employees. The new center was to be built on a park.
At a meeting with Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Mrs. Moeller and I casually mentioned the location in a discussion about Community Preservation Fund funding for housing. Mr. Thiele informed us that building on a park would involve an act of the State Legislature. I was shocked.
I confirmed Representative Thiele’s warning with New York State officials and immediately sought a meeting to advise then-Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. He didn’t listen to the warning.
Here I agree with former Councilman Jeff Bragman. Had the planning process been engaged in by the town board then, a new site would have been selected immediately. The planners would have confirmed what Mr. Thiele said. Instead, four years were wasted as then-Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez, supported by then-Supervisor Van Scoyoc, sought like Sisyphus to roll the heavy rock up the hill and push through an impossible location for the new building.
Anticipating inevitable failure, I proposed the alternative of the Child Development Center of the Hamptons site which the town had acquired. There was an existing building already there.
Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez rejected this idea, marginalized any further input, and even started a whisper campaign among seniors claiming Mrs. Moeller objected to building on the park site because the park was named after her mother.
Years have now passed and a new site selected and designed and nothing has been accomplished.
The costs have mounted. The project to add services for a senior population now twice that of the school population has become focused solely on a massive building project. There is no planning for how to handle this aging population.
This is what avoiding the available planning resources of the town results in.
Planning is not simply about following regulations. It is about finding the best way to solve problems. Had the planning resources of the town been used, much delay and expense could have been avoided.
Several years ago, I proposed a senior housing plan which would have provided for both senior housing and affordable housing for the working community in East Hampton. The idea was endorsed editorially by The Star and then ignored by the town board. Mr. Van Scoyoc laughed at it and ignored it. This is business as usual in East Hampton.
It is now up to the town board to put their senior center proposal through the planning process.
For those writing to The Star believing there is no need for senior services, here is something to consider. Last week I went to visit my 100-year-old mother in a nursing home. My mother has survived this long because her family was there for her and the State of Connecticut sent in assisted living services.
Beginning in her 90s, they sent in a young woman who helped her get dressed each morning and checked that she had food prepared for the day and was eating. A nurse came several times a week to check on her health. Today, in the nursing home, she looks forward to just being helped to get out of bed into her wheelchair, which she cannot do herself. She is very thankful for that assistance and so am I.
It’s time to get on with providing adequate services to senior residents in East Hampton. As taxpayers, we owe it to them to do the job right.
Loss of Authority
January 13, 2024
To the Editor,
Thank you to Jeff Bragman for the excellent summary of concerns about the senior center project in last week’s letters column.
I have previously noted a recent trend in Suffolk County courts to substitute their judgment for local exercises of zoning-related discretion, in effect hollowing out town government and depriving it of authority.
The flip side is that actions such as exempting the senior center from the full local review process facilitate and even accelerate the loss of independence. Why should the courts give our zoning board greater respect than the town board itself does?
A theme in recent years has been a failure by the town to engage in the State Environmental Quality Review Act process, issuing negative declarations in projects which needed more consideration, postponing review as in the airport decision, rashly committing to the Ditch Plain sewage project, and now choosing to go it alone without sharing authority with other agencies on a project as huge, expensive, complex, and questionable as the senior center.
We are in the early weeks of the new supervisor’s window of opportunity to do a much better job than her predecessor did on these issues. Taking a very hard look at the senior center would be an excellent start.
For democracy in East Hampton,
Funded by HUD
January 10, 2024
To the Editor,
Two letters caught my eye in the Jan. 4 edition of The Star regarding the proposed new senior center. The first letter was from Brad Brooks. He made three very good points. I am certainly in favor of a new senior center. I exercise there a couple of times a week and it is in very bad condition. The sign out front is a disgrace. It would be nice to exercise in a light, airy, modern building. However, I don’t think we need to put all our resources into one building when, as Mr. Brooks said, we could use more affordable senior housing. Unfortunately, seniors can’t live in the senior center.
I did want to clear up one point, though. The town has never actually built senior housing. The three senior apartment housing complexes we have now were funded entirely by HUD and New York Housing and Community Renewal. It is not run by the town, it is run by Windmill Housing Development Corp., a not-for-profit, private entity. The town, of course, was helpful in getting the needed change in zoning and guiding them through the planning and zoning process, but they never funded a senior housing project. Windmill Village I was built in 1987, Windmill II in 2003, and St. Michael’s Housing in 2013. Windmill I is in the process of applying for an expansion for 32 more apartments on their existing property. I live in Windmill Village I and feel very lucky to have gotten an apartment there after being on the waiting list for several years. More apartments are definitely needed because a new list was opened in August and 130 people applied for housing at Windmill I alone.
The other letter was from Len Bernard. He made the point that new construction in East Hampton is very costly and because private, single family homes in East Hampton have gone for double $32 million dollars, the price for the new center isn’t that bad. None of the people who use the senior center today have houses that are worth half that much and I don’t think they would be that upset if the center was not as elaborate as planned. I don’t know if Mr. Bernard takes part in activities at the center now or if he is waiting for the new, modern one to be built, but he isn’t the only one who wants a fresh, modern place to go to socialize, eat lunch, exercise, and do activities — but does it have to cost $32 million?
January 15, 2024
To the Editor,
I am writing you concerning the issue of senior affordable housing. I know you are aware of the proposal that Windmill Village has placed in front of the planning board and I am adding my voice to say that this is a project that is well worth doing. Windmill has built three housing projects, all for seniors, and it has cost the town nothing. All money came through the federal government.
In order to build the new project, which would consist of 32 new units, they would need a few variances. I know that the town realizes the need for senior housing, because their waiting list was just opened and they have over 130 applicants. There is no way most of these people could ever be served if we do not build some more senior housing.
Over the years, I have come to know some of the people at Windmill by giving them acupuncture treatments. The apartments are beautiful, clean, and safe, with grab bars throughout the bathroom and a five-foot turning radius in the kitchen. This means that if somebody did become disabled over the years they could stay in their own apartment.
It is my understanding that all of the Windmill applicants make under $40,000 a year and most of them are around the $15,000 a year income. There is no way they could afford to rent a year-round place in East Hampton. They are on a fixed income, which is mostly Social Security, and they want to stay in East Hampton because they would like to be around their family and friends that they’ve known most of their lives.
I hope that they will assist Windmill in any way they can in making this project happen. I know that they’ll need some variances, but I don’t think this is beyond reasonable accommodation.
More Compact Design
January 9, 2024
At the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 6, their town board liaison, Cate Rogers, made a statement that East Hampton Town already had a large building of 21,000 square feet, the Y.M.C.A. building in the village. She was comparing the size of the new senior center, a proposed 22,000-square-foot building, to the Y.M.C.A. building in the village. Factually, the Y.M.C.A. building is on 2.4 acres and includes 62 parking spaces on the property. The new senior center is a sprawling building on a seven-acre property in Amagansett with many more parking spaces.
For comparison, here are the data on the Y.M.C.A. A senior center needs a lot of first-floor space, but offices could be more inexpensively built on a second floor, and mechanicals could be in a basement that is part of a two-story building.
The Y.M.C.A. has 19,550 square feet of space, most on the first floor. The building looks to have about 17,550 square feet on the first floor, and a small partial second story, totaling 19,550 square feet. It occupies just 2.413 acres and the lot is part of the larger village parking lot. That is far less than the seven acres occupied by the proposed senior center.
What it shows is that a more compact and far cheaper design could be accomplished for the senior center, and would occupy significantly less property.
A more compact design could leave a lot more room for senior housing on the seven-acre piece, as well as the other adjacent lot of seven acres, making a comprehensive senior village plan possible. Or more affordable housing.
I’m hoping that this town board will re-evaluate this current design and the size of the proposed senior center building and expand their horizons to include needed affordable housing.
Do the Right Thing
January 10, 2024
When we first moved here in 1979 we weren’t seniors. We found East Hampton beautiful and full of charm. It was winter and most of the restaurants were closed and the supermarket made us ache for Paris. There was a realization after seven or eight years that this extraordinarily beautiful place was also extraordinarily dull. One of my friends described it as the “elephants’ burial ground” — “it’s where the elephants came to die.”
But, that wasn’t true. Dying in East Hampton was anything but spiritual and enjoyable. Except for the wealthy.
So, after reading Jeff Bragman’s letter in The Star last week about the $32-million senior center, and being a senior, I decided to check into senior life in East Hampton. That’s not true. I’ve been involved in affordable housing in East Hampton for the past 27 years and am aware of what the town does or doesn’t do.
East Hampton has followed the federal government’s protocol for seniors, which is to provide as few services as possible and hope that they die sooner than later to save money on health insurance and Social Security (which they have already paid for).
There is an American myth that the country wasn’t built by our parents, grandparents, et al., and that we are debt-free with regard to past generations. So, the belief that seniors can survive on Social Security payments once they’ve stopped working is deeply held. If the average senior lived on $40,000 a year it would be impossible to live out here. Imagine if it’s only $20,000, as it is in the senior housing?
East Hampton Town has never built any senior housing out here. Zero. It has relied on Windmill Village to build the existing 120 units.
If the town were inclined, it could take the $32 million and build housing for 400 seniors or build a normal center for $16 million and housing for 200 seniors. Or it could take the existing senior housing apartments that are 37 years old and build 32 more apartments for free. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, not the taxpayers, will foot the bill.
Why it won’t build the free apartments goes to the root of the U.S. seniors problem. Doing as little as possible to make life comfortable for the people who built the country.
Yet, a few simple changes in outdated zoning codes, like the number of units per project and number of units per acre, should be no big deal for a town board that wants to exempt itself from planning and zoning codes for its new senior center.
Senior housing and multifamily housing have the same zoning limitation, eight apartments per acre and 60 per project. Yet, senior apartments might have 65 people in a 60-unit project, while multifamily projects might have 220 people in the same number of units. The zoning is usually based on water usage and septic systems. (See water and sewage treatment systems.) Changing the code to accommodate seniors is a no-brainer, especially if there’s a housing problem.
So, if we have a housing issue, and seniors do, the town board needs to think outside the box a little bit. Most of the people on the board will be seniors someday. We can’t stay 30 or 40 or 50 forever.
The implications of Jeff Bragman’s letter are a warning that we are going to a bad place. It may not be fair to question the skill, knowledge, and acumen of our local politicians. Yet, for seniors, the town board could step up and do the right thing. Do they know what the right thing is? Absolutely. Do they want to do it?
Attitude of Gratitude
December 26, 2023
The “Guestwords” “Behind the Trade Parade” (Dec. 21) was an inspiring article prompted by an ugly display of ethnic bias. The author, Fran Levy, had overheard a disparaging remark about the trade parade, specifically, about Hispanic tradespeople who drive long distances every day to work on the East End.
Ms. Levy described her outrage at the malevolence and ignorance of the remark, but she didn’t dwell on this for long. Instead, she told a personal story about a transformative time in her life. As a naive 19-year-old college student, she lived for several months in a poor community in the isolated northern mountains of Puerto Rico. She was warmly welcomed and fell in love with the people and their culture. “I found a part of myself, a spirit I had not experienced before, and I am forever grateful to the people there for that experience,” she wrote.
This article might have been just a tirade against intolerance. Instead, it was a delightful story about how one young person learned to appreciate a different culture and developed an attitude of gratitude — to last a lifetime.
January 14, 2024
Again, I want to express my appreciation and admiration for another beautiful front-page photo by Durell Godfrey. The image of the Ecuadorean women walking with umbrellas in the falling snow is evocative, and the photo has the feel of an impressionistic painting.
Please pass on my compliments to Durell.
January 14, 2024
To the Editor,
Kurt Andersen, in his book “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America,” has in his preface the clearest list of what the Reagan presidency brought to us that I have seen. I’m recasting his paragraph here in the form of a list. Ronald Reagan in his campaign did not cheerfully announce that if elected:
That private profit and market values would override all other American values.
That as the economy grew nobody but the well-to-do would share in the additional bounty.
That many millions of middle-class jobs and careers would vanish, along with fixed private pensions and reliable health care.
That a college degree would simultaneously become unaffordable and almost essential to earning a good income.
That enforcement of antimonopoly laws would end.
That meaningful control of campaign contributions from big business and the rich would be declared unconstitutional.
That Washington lobbying would increase 1,000 percent.
That our revived and practically religious deference to business would enable a bizarre American denial of climate science and an absolute refusal to treat the climate crisis as a crisis.
That after doubling the share of America’s income that it took for itself, a deregulated Wall Street would nearly bring down the financial system, ravage the economy, and pay no price for its recklessness.
And, lastly, that the federal government he discredited and undermined would be unequipped to deal with a pandemic and its consequences.
I don’t believe any of this is exaggerated. Many thanks to Kurt Andersen for his clarity. Much of this brings even further clarity to the changes we have seen in our own town and villages, and the changes here which seem not to have happened yet are surely on the way.
All credit to Kurt Andersen.
January 13, 2024
To the Editor,
A home on our block is having an open house this weekend. Nothing out of the ordinary except the fact it was constructed without ever posting a required permit from the department of environmental conservation. No big deal — those permits are like instructions on a box, more like suggestions.
The bigger fact was when they had a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to garner an extra room for the “children.” Funny, I don’t know if it even passed its final inspection, but it’s already on the market. So much for the seemingly imaginary family moving in. [People will say] any words to be granted the wish, even when it’s already known to be stranger than fiction.
A Good Precedent
January 8, 2024
To the Editor,
Should Trump be struck off the ballot?
Many believe that the people should have the say in who they want as president. Certainly this has been true in the past, but can people vote away the 14th Amendment without the prescribed due process?
The 14th Amendment precludes those who “gave aid and comfort to the enemy” from elections and surely having the power and not stopping the insurrectionists fits this bill as does calling them “patriots” and proposing pardons. This was televised for all to see.
Perhaps this would be a good precedent, for then we could vote away the Second Amendment.
Demagogues don’t stop — they are stopped.
Tire Tracks in Sand
January 10, 2024
To the Editor,
Two cheers to Southampton Town for putting a halt to driving on their town beaches after the recent storm, if only for a few days.
Alas, if only East Hampton could learn from their example. East Hampton seems to be burdened by a covey of trustees, some of whom are specifically charged with maintaining our beaches, whose duties seem to consist of sitting on their you-know-whats while collecting their paychecks. Equally, if not more at fault, is the East Hampton Town Board who can only wring their hands while the beaches erode.
Even just one day after the last deluge (and more expected shortly), you can observe fresh tire tracks on the beaches.
Could it be that this neglect or inertia is from a fear of offending those confirmed beach drivers to whom beach driving is “an East Hampton tradition”? You can’t change the weather but we can try to change driving habits. At least this would be a start.
P. DAVID FREEDMAN
On Fixed Incomes
January 15, 2024
To the Editor,
I was so pleased to read that “growth on New York State school taxes will be again capped at 2 percent,” up from 1.23 in the 2021-22 year, but it has remained steady since. I guess the Wainscott School Board didn’t read the cap rate correctly, as the rate increased over 60 percent.
Many here are seniors on fixed incomes. Two of my neighbors and a woman at the post office remarked that “we are being priced out of living out what time we have left,” where they have lived for decades and in some cases their entire lives.
We know tuition is high. Subsidized housing will add to this debt. With the high cost of living now affecting bare necessities, I guess our situation presents us with a huge question mark. Where do we get the funds to exist in our homes?
ARTHUR J. FRENCH
January 12, 2024
I would like to thank Joe Biden for all he’s done to the U.S.A. Joe and his administration have allowed four million illegals to come into our country, without being vetted. It’s a good possibility none have been checked out for diseases.
We now have illegal gangs fighting amongst each other; we also have illegals knocking on residents’ doors begging for money.
With all said and done our children sent out of school to do remote learning, that was never set up. These children were pushed out of the school for the illegals to be placed in Madison high school. None of this is fair to the immigrant children, being bounced around all hours of day and night.
In interviews they don’t reply they are here because they fear their country, they claim “I’m here for a job.”
Randalls Island is becoming a hellhole of armed rivals. Stabbings are occurring, and finally mobs of illegals are storming expensive stores, the sole purpose is to rob and take as much as possible.
Thanks, Joe, and by the way while you’re on another vacation who’s minding the store? It’s not the chief of defense.
In God and Country,