Editorial: Time to Ditch PDDs

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Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman finally said this week what a lot of his constituents have known for awhile: that the town’s Planned Development District law is a flawed zoning tool that should be eliminated.

To be fair, the thinking behind PDDs is not all bad. The town’s comprehensive plan, which saw its last major update nearly two decades ago, simply does not take into account the many needs facing the town, such as affordable housing, for instance. Town officials saw the PDD as a way to put the elected town board in charge of making often controversial zoning decisions so that it, not the appointed planning board, would take the heat, and, we suppose, the credit, for them.

Rather than a simple change of zone, which the town board also oversees, PDDs were designed to require developers to provide something extra — a community benefit like a park, additional subsidized apartments, or improved public access — if they wanted the town board to relax its rules for them. But since the law was first adopted in the mid-1990s, PDDs have too often turned into little more than bait-and-switch deals in which a developer proposes a half-baked scheme and sprinkles it with a sweet topping to entice public support. The minute the project encounters some opposition, the first thing to go by the wayside is the promised public benefit.

Mr. Schneiderman believes the way to solve the problem is to revisit the comprehensive plan. Anyone who has sat through efforts to update the comprehensive plans in either Southampton or East Hampton knows it is a long, drawn-out process in which competing interests often clash. Unfortunately, it also is one that has a relatively short shelf life: Seen much demand for property zoned for video rental stores lately?

If controversial proposals, from the Bridgehampton Gateway to the Hills in East Quogue, have taught us anything, the PDD law simply does not work. It is time to bite the bullet and invest the time and effort into a comprehensive plan update.

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