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Aug 24, 2011 11:42 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Sends Supermajority Vote For PDDs To Public Vote

Aug 24, 2011 12:08 PM

The Southampton Town Board narrowly approved a measure on Tuesday night to require a supermajority vote—four out of five Town Board members—to approve planned development district projects. The measure must now hold up in the polls in November in a voter referendum.

The board voted, 3-2, to amend Town Code to include the supermajority provision, which would also apply to amendments to already approved projects. Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Councilwoman Nancy Graboski voted in favor of the measure, while board members Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone voted against.

The measure must be ratified by the public during the general election on November 8.

The projects in question, known as PDDs, allow developers to surpass underlying zoning of a property in exchange for providing some benefit to the community. The planning tool has been the subject of intense criticism by the public, and, more recently, sweeping reform spearheaded by Ms. Throne-Holst.

Board members had a lengthy debate on the proposal, and Mr. Nuzzi, Mr. Malone and Ms. Graboski questioned the need for the measure, given that a vast majority of PDDs have been approved either unanimously or by a supermajority vote in the past. But Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Fleming countered that requiring the supermajority on the books offered an extra level of review.

“The reality is it requires a different level of scrutiny, a different level of approval,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.

Ms. Graboski, although concerned about the measure, ultimately threw her weight behind it. Mr. Malone, while voting against the code change, did vote in favor of having the referendum.

Other issues were raised during the discussion, as well, when Ms. Fleming suggested exempting a PDD project by Gregg and Mitchell Rechler to revitalize the Canoe Place Inn and build 40 townhouses across the canal, noting that the applicants had sought extensive public input on the plan and that she would not like “to keep changing the finish line” on them.

Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray noted that the board would have the authority to exempt applications from the supermajority requirement by a mere simple majority vote—begging the question of why the requirement was needed in the first place, if it could so easily be pierced.

“If this board has that authority, why would you have the supermajority in the first place?” questioned Ms. Graboski.

Mr. Malone added that he was concerned it would provide “a false sense of security to town residents,” and Mr. Nuzzi agreed, noting that it wouldn’t stop weak projects from going forward.

“A bad project is a bad project,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “It doesn’t mean that four members won’t pass it.”

Ms. Fleming countered that although the supermajority was not a “panacea” or a “silver bullet,” it would help ensure that only strong projects would be approved.

“I’m not sure it does,” Mr. Nuzzi countered.

“But we’re asking the public that,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.

Members of the public who spoke on the measure, including Bob Deluca, the president and CEO of the environmental organization Group for the East End, and Andrea Spilka, president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, urged the Town Board to move it forward.

Whiskey Hill Vista Preserved

The Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to purchase a conservation easement to preserve a view atop Whiskey Hill in Bridgehampton that is dear to many trails enthusiasts.

The board used Community Preservation Fund revenue to acquire an easement on approximately 3 acres of land adjacent to the vista for $940,000. The acquisition depends on the landowner providing “clear and marketable title” to the property, according to the Town Board resolution authorizing the acquisition.

Community members and Town Board members praised the acquisition and thanked the landowner, Dan Shedrick, who was present at the public hearing on Tuesday night.

“This is a beautiful spot,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, “so I think we all agree a very important acquisition for the town to make.”

Members of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society lobbied Town Board members earlier this year to preserve the vista. Before the vote was called, Glorian Berk, the trails society’s president, urged the board to move forward. “We’re excited about this and we think it’ll be a wonderful addition,” Ms. Berk said.

All five Town Board members cosponsored the resolution. When a unanimous vote to support the CPF purchase was cast, the room broke out into applause.

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The super majority rule is a good idea as long as it is combined with a number of other steps to ensure that the public is given a voice. We must remember that until last year (or it may have been this one) not one single PDD request had ever been denied. They should also put the "cash in lieu" option on the chopping block
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Aug 25, 11 3:30 PM
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Aug 26, 11 6:44 AM
OK, maybe I don't get it. Seems like typical government waste of time and money. If a 3 to 2 vote can exempt the need for a supermajority , all you will ever need is 3 board members support the PDD. The Group for the East End is only about "their" East End, not necessarily the majority.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Aug 26, 11 8:35 AM
By kayostar (1), Moody on Oct 12, 11 9:43 AM