Supervisor Candidates in East Hampton Differ on Many Things

Peter Van Scoyac

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc is seeking reelection to a second two-year term in the town’s top job. He is being challenged by David Gruber, a onetime political ally.

The supervisor’s post carries a base salary of $111,000 in 2019.

David Gruber, Independence Party

This is Mr. Gruber’s second bid for the supervisor’s seat and third run for elected office. Mr. Gruber is also a former chairman of the Town Democratic Party committee and was one of its primary political strategists and major fundraisers from the 1990s through about 2016.
Since then, however, he has been a strident critic of the town’s ruling party. Much of Mr. Gruber’s campaign has been based on a laundry list of what he sees as the failures and missteps of the current Town Board.

He has spotlighted the yearlong delay and more than $3 million in additional costs that have beset the town’s effort to replace its entire emergency communications system. Mr. Gruber has blamed the Town Board for not ensuring that the new system was thoroughly planned out, leading to the discovery that most of the existing communications towers that were to be used needed to be wholly reconstructed to be able to support the system.

“They discovered that they couldn’t put them on the towers they had, so now the whole system has been sitting in boxes with the warranties expiring,” he said. “In business if someone made those kind of errors with an $11 million project, they’d be fired.”

David Gruber

He’s said that the town’s planning of a new shellfish hatchery building in Springs has been botched by spending time and money on meetings with architects before going over preliminary design ideas with residents of the neighborhood — some of whom have been angered by the size of the proposed facility.

“They could have put a preliminary plan on the table in a month and solicited the views of the CAC and the people on Babes Lane,” he said. “Instead, they just say, ‘This is the plan’ and everyone goes, ‘What the hell? Where did this come from?’ and they say, ‘Well, we gave you notice.’ The anger in Springs is overwhelming.”

He has also criticized the board’s handling of the hamlet studies long-term planning project, particularly with regard to Montauk’s downtown, which drew criticisms for proposing that major hotels along the oceanfront should be encouraged to relocate inland through a transferable development rights program.

Looking to how he would do things differently, one of the marquees of Mr. Gruber’s campaign has been his belief that the town should be mounting an aggressive campaign to create hundreds of subsidized apartments that could be rented at rates affordable to young residents and lower-income families. To do that, he has said, the town should be looking at acquiring about 80 acres of land in various parts of the town and constructing three-story apartment buildings with more than 100 units in each.

“I’m told we can get to $200 per square foot if you build at a volume that spreads out the price of the land, and at that price you can rent for $1 per square foot, per month,” he said. “That’s affordable. And there’s no reason we can’t do this other than political will.”

If elected, Mr. Gruber said, one of his first projects would be to re-tool the numerous advisory committees that help town officials develop policy or legislation on various matters. He says the committees need a wider breadth of membership to represent the community as a whole and to be able to work through issues before legislation is introduced.

“We need more diverse representation, differing viewpoints,” said Mr. Gruber, who is a member of the town’s Airport Management Advisory Committee. “Committees should not be advocacy groups, like the energy sustainability committee. They just announce a program and then hope nobody gets up in arms over it. You need to be ironing out as many differences as you can in the context of that committee work.”

Peter Van Scoyoc, Democratic Party

In the face of Mr. Gruber’s many criticisms, Mr. Van Scoyoc holds up what he says are the successes of the current Town Board — often the same things that Mr. Gruber chalks up as black marks.

Mr. Van Scoyoc has been involved in town government for 19 years: five years on the Zoning Board of Appeals, six years on the Planning Board, six years as a councilman and two years as supervisor.

“That 19 years in town government is important, it’s relevant experience,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “I’ve lived here for the last 30 years, full-time, unlike my opponent, who has been living in Manhattan and Paris and hasn’t been involved in this community at all.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc says that East Hampton has long been a regional leader in a number of progressive initiatives since he joined the board, like renewable energy and water quality protection, and that his administration is charging to push those further and accelerate others, like affordable housing development.

He notes that East Hampton has the most stringent septic laws on Long Island, requiring nitrogen-reducing systems to be installed in all new construction and major expansion projects. Likewise, the town is already the per-capita leader in creating subsidized housing, he said, has 50 new units under development or nearing completion, and has recently secured another 10.5 acres of land in Wainscott for reduced-cost housing development. The town is working on an erosion control taxing district feasibility study to figure out how to muster millions for beach nourishment in Montauk; is advancing long-term planning studies for the town’s five main business districts and coastal regions where sea level rise is expected to have its greatest impacts; and has put in place an aggregation-pricing program that has lowered the cost of solar arrays for residents’ homes. Mr. Van Scoyoc has been a strong supporter of and advocate for the South Fork Wind Farm proposal, which he says will help get the town to its goal of being 100-percent reliant on renewable energy sources.

“A lot of this stuff is pretty visionary, especially in the context of the rest of Long Island,” he said. “These are local problems and global problems. Some of them won’t be solved in a short period of time, but we think we’re making major strides toward improvement.”

While he holds up accelerating the rate of affordable housing development as one of his top priorities, he has said throughout the campaign that Mr. Gruber’s large-scale approach is not one that he sees as being prudent or in keeping with the desires of local residents. He has said that smaller-scale high-density developments, like 37 units under construction in Amagansett, are closer to 
the scale of the projects the town should take on, along with efforts to subsidize cheaper purchases of single-family homes by current residents.

“I think building projects and condensing subsidized housing creates a dynamic that people are set apart because of their economic standing,” he said. “We feel it’s better to integrate housing throughout neighborhoods and maintain affordability in our existing neighborhoods, rather than having rampant gentrification where everything just becomes a teardown.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that he would like to see the town greatly expand bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly travel routes throughout the town, as well as expand public transportation. He noted that the Hampton Hopper bus service funded by the town and the state has been a broad success, and said he would like to see similar service expanded to other hamlets.

“I believe that my record the last two years shows that I’ve been effective, that I listen and that I treat people with respect,” he said.