By Stephen J. Kotz
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman painted a decidedly upbeat picture when he presented his annual state of the town address before Tuesday’s town board meeting.
At the start of his 40-minute speech, the supervisor pointed to the town’s AAA credit rating and the first tax rate cut in a decade last year, but said financial stability is not the only thing “that makes Southampton a wonderful town.” Efforts to provide for public safety, tackle quality-of-life issues like overcrowded housing — and the very lack of housing for its work force — safeguard the environment, undertake long-term planning initiatives to help spur the economy and protect community character play equally important roles, he said.
Among the initiatives Mr. Schneiderman cited was a pledge to make the town 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources by the year 2025. “It may seem ambitious, but I think it is a very possible goal,” the supervisor said.
To help tackle housing issues, the supervisor said the town had created a new Department of Housing and Community Development and named as its director Diana Weir, who holds a similar position in Brookhaven town and who formerly worked with the Long Island Housing Partnership. Ms. Weir is also a former East Hampton Town councilwoman and a member of that town’s planning board.
“Quality of life is deteriorating because we cannot house our work force,” Mr. Schneiderman said of an effort to provide more affordable housing. He said he had conducted a review of how many non-age restricted apartments the town has created acted over the past several decades. “Our score so far is zero,” he said. A complex of 38 apartments in Speonk and the 28-unit Sandy Hollow development in Tuckahoe will help, he said, but more needs to be done.
Among the initiatives to be considered on the housing front is a proposed code change the supervisor floated a year ago that would allow more accessory apartments to help provide workforce housing and provide income to senior citizens.
The town has created a new Department of Public Safety to better manage code enforcement. As part that effort, the supervisor said the town would work with owners of dilapidated housing, who may not have the financial ability to remedy the situation, to find funding to help them renovate and reduce blight.
The town is working on a smartphone app that will be unveiled in the coming months, he said, that would make it easier for resident to lodge complaints or request service from various town departments. Those requests will go directly to department heads and the liaison on the town board. “The person who made that complaint can now track the progress” of the town in responding to the complaint, he added.
A better job of tracking code violations such as complaints of overcrowded housing is also being done and regular updates will be provided on the town’s website. “I want the public to see the town is aggressively enforcing its law,” the supervisor said.
Mr. Schneiderman said the board would soon take up a proposal to more closely monitor the number of cars allowed at one house to be able to better identify situations of overcrowding and added it is considering requiring permits for people who want to hold large parties. The latter is in response to complaints that some properties are the scene of regular parties, where noise and music bothers neighbors on a weekly basis during the summer.
Mr. Schneiderman said he was excited that new Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, who was hired last year from Nassau County, will officially take office on Monday, May 1, after working several months on a part-time consulting basis, and praised Captain Lawrence Schurek for his work as acting chief for the past half year.
The supervisor touched briefly on the environment, touting the Community Preservation Fund and passage of a referendum last year to allow 20 percent of its revenues to go toward water quality projects and said the town would soon be unveiling its own septic system rebate system and would seek to identify other possible uses for the funding, which he estimated could be up to $10 million a year.
Although he offered no specifics about his goal of freeing the town from its reliance on fossil fuels, Mr. Schneiderman said the town has been supporting a number of alternative energy efforts. He said he had also spoken with Thomas Falcone, the chief executive officer of the Long Island Power Authority, who assured him LIPA and the state were committed to long-term goals of shifting to renewable power. East Hampton Town announced a similar goal in 2014, pledging to unshackle itself from fossil fuels by 2020. That effort was boosted by the recent announcement that Deepwater Wind would construct a 90-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Montauk.