By Tessa Raebeck
Residents of Southampton raised concerns over a new sustainability proposal at the Bridgehampton Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting Monday, June 24.
The document, Southampton 400+ Sustainability Element, is a proposed update to the Southampton Town Comprehensive Plan. It was developed by the Sustainable Southampton Advisory Committee and submitted to the Southampton Town Board for consideration in December 2012.
The town created the committee, also known as the Green Committee, in 2008 to explore sustainability initiatives.
“There’s an economic, social and environmental benefit to everything that’s in here,” said Robert DeLuca, the President and CEO of the Group for the East End and a member of the Green Committee.
Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Southampton 400+ spans over 100 pages and outlines recommended action plans for 10 focus areas. According to the document, it is “intended to guide the Town in its pursuit of a sustainable future.”
“It is a starting place where you set the goals that you want to achieve for a community over time,” said DeLuca of comprehensive planning, emphasizing that the guidelines set forth in the document were suggestions rather than orders.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera proposed amendments to the sustainability plan in April, following discussions with apprehensive residents.
At the CAC meeting, DeLuca and Preston Scalera addressed the concerns, which centered primarily on perceived mandates and the manner in which the plan was written.
“It’s pretty complicated and it’s filled with suggestions and charts,” said Carey Millard, co-chair of the CAC.
“I agree that it’s enormous in terms of its content and substance,” said Preston Scalera. “It’s not a fluff document. In an attempt to become very clear and concise, it can become very complicated.
“What you probably needed was a three page summary in the beginning,” said DeLuca, adding, “I would whole heartedly endorse that.”
Preston Scalera’s edits aim to address the issues raised by town residents in discussions of Southampton 400+.
“The major concerns were that we were seceding or giving away our local jurisdiction,” said Preston Scalera. “I felt that it needed to be made very clear that that is not the case.”
Preston Scalera’s amendments to the draft change the actions to use passive, optional directions rather than definitive commands. For example, “expand” is replaced with “consider expanding.”
“It was very important to have it formatted so that it gave us flexibility,” she said. “The other issue was that this somehow infringed on people’s property rights. It was important when I was looking through it to make sure that there were no mandates.”
The plan is “flexible enough that it can grow over time,” said DeLuca.
Both Preston Scalera and DeLuca emphasized that the adoption of 400+ represents a vision for the community to attempt to follow, not a requirement for individual residents or a legal mandate for the town.
“I think that the more you set lofty goals, the more you aspire to try to get there,” said DeLuca.
“A lot of this starts with the town,” he continued. “A big part of the recommendations in here is an attempt to have the town setting an example, leading by example.”
“Southampton is more dependent than most on a quality environment,” the committee wrote in the 400+ cover letter. “Leadership in sustainability should be integral to the town’s identity and mission.”
“I think if you go into putting the priority on the existing residents is where you want to make it gentle,” said Jeffrey Mansfield, CAC vice chair. “You want to make sure it’s informative. But with government buildings and with new construction, you have the ability to go much further.”
400+ asks Southampton Town to lead the community-wide effort for sustainability, but also hopes to help individual residents to be more mindful of their environmental impact. Education on sustainability methods is a major component of the plan.
The guiding principles set forth by 400+ focus on achieving healthy and resilient communities and natural systems, sustainable education and literacy, transparency and the Triple Bottom Line, “an increasingly common approach to sustainable development that looks at each action from the standpoint of economic, social and environmental benefits.”
The document was intended to help “elevate the importance of the sustainability piece “ in the board’s planning rubric, according to DeLuca.
“The goal here is not nostalgia,” reads 400+. “The goal is strengthening regional quality of life using 21st century technologies and services in the building, health care, energy, arts and entertainment, transportation, and other economic sectors.”
“I think it’s a tremendous endeavor to do the right thing,” said Ian MacPherson, a former member of the CAC who attended the meeting. “The thing that I’m most concerned about is getting it done.”
MacPherson referred to the expanse of 400+.
“There are 160 different topics and tactics. There are 87 different mechanisms for implementation. There are 57 different lead entities and 64 different partnerships,” he said. “All of this, to my mind, demands a very strong management organization.”
He suggested the CAC’s endorsement of the draft should be contingent on the creation of a clarified system of management.
“There should be an organization set up to run this,” said MacPherson. “That is not a should, that surely is an obligation for the town to get something done.”