By Stephen J. Kotz
Acrimony was conspicuous by its absence Thursday as the candidates for Southampton Town Board met to debate at the Southampton Cultural Center.
Incumbent Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, a member of the Independence Party who has been endorsed by the Democrats, touted bipartisanship in accomplishments ranging from back-to-back tax cuts, a reduction in town debt and progress on a number of issues from affordable housing to quality-of-life concerns. “I’m feeling like we are getting a lot done as a team,” he said of the current board.
Rather than criticizing Mr. Schneiderman, his Republican challenger, Ray Overton, a former Southampton Town trustee, who lives in Westhampton and is general manager of a plumbing and heating business, said the pace of things could be picked up.
“The town is a beautiful place, and many things are good,” he said. “But there are many, many problems that have lingered.” He said he would use his business acumen to come up with workable solutions for problems ranging from development to transportation quickly and efficiently.
The debate, which was sponsored by the Press News Group and moderated by its executive editor, Joe Shaw, also featured the candidates for town board: incumbent Republican Councilman Stan Glinka and his running mate, Thea Dombrowski-Fry, and incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Julie Lofstad and her running mate, Tommy John Schiavoni.
Mr. Glinka, a Southampton native seeking his second four-year term, is a vice president with the Bridgehampton National Bank, where he said he has taken pride in helping provide financing for East End businesses.
As a board member, Mr. Glinka said he has tried a “hands-on” approach that has included ride-alongs with the highway department, code enforcement, and the police. He said he viewed his job primarily as fulfilling the public’s wishes, not forcing his own ideas on the town. “It has been a very humbling and a very rewarding experience,” he said of his first term.
Ms. Dombrowski-Fry, a teaching assistant with the Southampton School District, is a political newcomer who grew up in Water Mill but now lives in Hampton Bays with her family. She cited a list of civic activities from Ducks Unlimited to the Polish American Club and involvement in Our Lady of the Hamptons School and Our Lady of Poland Catholic Church.
She said she decided to run for office because she saw the community changing for the worse. “I saw a lot of things changing that whole hometown feel,” she said. “We are starting to lose our grip.”
Mr. Schiavoni, a member of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and the Sag Harbor School Board, grew up in North Haven, where he also served on the village board and ZBA. A teacher with the East Moriches School District and Suffolk Community College, he said he enjoyed public service and his experience in government would serve the town well.
Mr. Schiavoni said he decided to seek town office when Governor Andrew Cuomo earmarked $2.5 billion to address water quality issue. “That said to me there was the political will — and the money — to work on water,” he said.
Ms. Lofstad won a special election early last year after Councilman Brad Bender resigned to plead guilty to drug charges. A Hampton Bays native who works with her husband in the family fishing business, Ms. Lofstad was a community activist before running for office.
She cited the repeal of the planned development district law as a major accomplishment and said she would like to focus on environmental protection. “The environment is the engine that drives our economy,” she said.
Topics were focused more on issues on the west side of the Shinnecock Canal, including the controversial Hills PDD in East Quogue, but the candidates for supervisor were asked to weigh in on the Bridgehampton Gateway property.
Mr. Overton said he was “not familiar with what’s being proposed there,” but said any commercial development should have affordable apartments above stores and offices.
Mr. Schneiderman described the Gateway development as “a great example of a PDD gone bad.” At the town’s request, the developer Carol Konner had proposed a mixed use development centered around an Equinox gym. The problem, according to Mr. Schneiderman, was that it called for more development than would have been allowed under the existing highway business zone. After a community uproar over the plans, Ms. Konner withdrew them and has said she will develop the property as allowed by existing zoning.
“That is not necessarily a happy ending,” said Mr. Schneiderman. Current zoning would allow things like car dealerships and business similar to those seen along County Road 39, he said. “The plan has to come from the community up, and it has to be viable so the developer goes, ‘Okay, that would be an alternative,’” he said.
Asked about solving the region’s transportation woes, Mr. Schneiderman said a major reason for traffic jams is that the working class has been priced out of the East End, especially east of the canal. He said more accessory apartments would help, but also said he supported the effort to expand service on the Long Island Rail Road and the Suffolk County bus.
“There’s a reason why it’s called the ‘trade parade,’” said Mr. Overton. A booming housing industry requires a large workforce, one that would never take the bus or the train, he said. Mr. Overton said the town needs to develop places where construction-related businesses can set up shop east of the canal, reducing the need to haul equipment back and forth.
He said back roads, like North Sea-Mecox Road and Scuttlehole Road were becoming the de facto “third and fourth lanes” of County Road 39 and Route 27. “We are going to have to create some wider roads — four lanes,” he said. “This is not what anyone wants to hear.”
Mr. Schneiderman countered that widening local roads “would compromise our rural character.”
The town board candidates also weighed in on traffic, with Mr. Schiavoni and Ms. Lofstad supporting efforts to extend rail and bus service, with shuttles bringing employees to their jobs, while Mr. Glinka and Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said traffic was a byproduct of a lack of affordable housing. “It all starts with the revitalization of our hamlets,” said Ms. Dombrowski-Fry.
Although “The Hills,” a PDD calling for 118 houses and a private golf club on a 600-acre tract in East Quogue has been one of the hottest issues in town, the board candidates were reluctant to comment on it.
Both Ms. Lofstad, who opposed PDDs in her campaign, and Mr. Glinka said they could not comment on an application that is before the board. Ms. Dombrowski-Fry, also declined comment. Mr. Schiavoni went so far as to criticize the PDD law. Regarding the application at hand, he said he would worry that safeguards promised by the developer, including a limit on pesticides and fertilizers, would be difficult to enforce. “Moving forward 10 years, I want to know who will be counting the bags of fertilizer, the nitrogen, going onto the property,” he said.
Mr. Overton, however, said he supported the basic plan. “These 100 houses in this price range the developer is looking at are not going to become primary homes,” he said, suggesting that concerns about the pollution they would create has been exaggerated and that the safeguards proposed will protect the environment.
Mr. Schneiderman, who has come under fire for saying he might support the project after receiving a report from Dr. Chris Gobler showing that nitrogen levels would be lower with a PDD than they would be with normal development, said as a county legislator he had tried for years to get the property preserved, but that the town had dragged its heels on a management plan and missed out on that opportunity.
Town Board candidates expressed cautious support for Police Chief Steven Skrynecki’s decision earlier this year to create a counter-terrorism unit, whose members have been seen carrying military-style assault rifles at a number of public events this year.
Ms. Lofstad said it was “a sign of the times.” Mr. Glinka raised the specter of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas as justification for the deployment. Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said she trusted the police “to have our backs.”
Mr. Schiavoni said it was troubling to see the rifles on display at children’s events, but said the chief had modified his approach to answer some of the concerns raised about the new policy. “As for me, I do not want our police to be outgunned by anyone,” he said, while adding that with more than 300 million firearms currently in the United States, it was time for Congress to tackle “common sense gun control.”
Asked about his position on working with federal authorities to detain and deport illegal immigrants, Mr. Schneiderman said town police would cooperate when it came to dangerous criminals, but repeated his vow that town police would not be deputized as immigration officers. He said it was important that all residents be able to come to police if they are victims of crime. “We are not going around asking people if they are here legally,” he said.
Mr. Overton said detention and deportation were not new issues and said many resorts hiring undocumented workers were “raided on an annual basis” in the past. His biggest concerns, he said, were illegal and overcrowded housing and violent crime. The town should get tough on landlords who own unsafe housing and should swiftly turn over to federal agents those accused of dealing drugs, gang activity or acts of violence, he said.
Town Board members were also asked for an example of what type of project would bring out their passion. Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said there was not “one corner” of the East End that she doesn’t love, but said she would like to focus first on revitalizing Flanders, Riverside and Northampton by encouraging businesses to open there and young people to move into the area.
Mr. Glinka said he has always been passionate about revitalization and helping businesses grow and added he would continue to work on public safety issues.
“The environment is everything,” said Ms. Lofstad, who cited water quality concerns as an area of interest.
Mr. Schiavoni said he would be interested in working on working to better understand and prevent tick-borne illnesses and help the town obtain state funding to become a leader in that area.
The supervisor candidates were asked specifically about Hampton Bays, with Mr. Shaw saying that many residents of the hamlet don’t believe it gets the attention it deserves.
Mr. Overton said the Route 24 corridor and the waterfront, where there are many aging motels, needed serious redevelopment initiatives to spur the economy, protect the environment and help the tax base.
Mr. Schneiderman countered that the town has been paying a lot of attention to the hamlet, from buying closed nightclubs along the waterfront, rebuilding the beach pavilion, investing in a beach rake, repairing the fishing pier, resurfacing Dune Road, and improving both Good Ground Park and Red Creek Park.