Southampton Press Western Edition Editor Frank Costanza with candidates for Southampton Town Supervisor–Republican Linda Kabot, potential Conservative Party candidate Phil Keith and Independence Party member and incumbent supervisor Anna Throne-Holst–at a Thursday morning debate sponsored by the Southampton Chamber of Commerce.
By Tessa Raebeck
At their first debate of the election season Thursday morning, the candidates for Southampton Town supervisor shared their positions on topics ranging from affordable housing for low-income workers to beach re-nourishment projects for oceanfront homes.
At the Pancake and Pundits Buffet Breakfast, hosted by the Southampton Chamber of Commerce at Seasons in Southampton, moderator Frank Costanza posed questions to the three candidates, incumbent Supervisor and Independence Party member Anna Throne-Holst, Republican challenger Linda Kabot and Phil Keith, who as of Thursday was still a viable write in candidate on the Conservative Party line. Tuesday afternoon it was announced Keith was defeated by Kabot by just one vote.
Costanza, the editor of The Southampton Press western edition, opened the debate by questioning candidates about how they would stir the local economy, if elected.
Throne-Holst cited her development of the Regional Water Coalition, a group of leaders from the East End towns, Suffolk County and New York State committed to finding ways to improve water quality.
“Our economy, fundamentally, is based on our environment and our water,” said Throne-Holst. “Our water quality is at a crisis point right now. It’s a nationally recognized problem and I believe we need to show true leadership right now to stem this tide.”
Kabot, who served as supervisor prior to Throne-Holst, said that a platform which “details ideas and initiatives and strategies on a number of fronts” would be available on her website this week.
“In order for all of us to survive we need to have some economic development and growth and we need to target certain sites that should be rehabilitated and see investment brought forth,” she said.
Kabot also suggested convening a forum of business experts and said “drawing from the expertise of regional representatives and financial institutions on things that we can do” would be another idea she has to develop economic strategies for the town.
Keith, in turn, pointed to the conservative principles of the 18th century economist Adam Smith.
“Adam Smith basically had it right,” said Keith. “That is, let the economy work. The government should be doing whatever they can to enhance the abilities of these small businesses to be successful. Otherwise, go away.”
If elected, Keith said he would work to procure funding from the state or county to create a local business incubator on the campus of SUNY Southampton to help new small businesses get established.
“There is no question that the economy here is based squarely on the backs of small businesses,” said the candidate.
Costanza asked the candidates whether they find benefit in planned development districts (PDDs), zoning tools that allow developers to build greater density on a parcel than current zoning regulations permit in exchange for a community benefit. In particular, Costanza asked whether they support or oppose a proposal to build 34 affordable housing units on about two and a half acres on Sandy Hollow Cove in Tuckahoe.
When Kabot was supervisor in 2009, a plan was approved for 16 two-bedroom condominiums that would be sold at affordable rates to middle-income families. Throne-Holst put forth an amendment that altered the project to consist of 24 one-bedroom apartments and 10 studio apartments to be rented, rather than sold. The revision raised the density of the project from 20,000 square feet to 21,100 square feet.
“What happened over the years,” said Kabot, who questioned the alterations to the PDD made by Throne-Holst, “is the town board has utilized the PDD process—a change of zone process—to do things other than implement the Pine Barrens Act and those other things could be good things for our community and sometimes it’s really just a tool to give developers more density where it would normally not be allowed.”
“It varies our zoning code,” she continued. “And when you vary your zoning code you need to make sure that there are trade-offs in line with our community’s needs.”
Also voicing his opposition to the Sandy Hollow PDD, Keith said, “I don’t think it’s a proper use of that particular piece of property from a density standpoint but it should get a fair hearing.”
“We need good ideas and we certainly need affordable housing,” he continued. “The PDD is an opportunity for the town government and the planning department in particular to take a look at projects and assess whether or not it fits into the community.”
“I entirely agree that this is a fundamentally different project and it needs to be weighted for the pros and cons,” replied Throne-Holst, who argued that the decision to rent the Sandy Hollow units rather than sell them keeps the town in control of the development, noting that her administration has revamped the entire PDD process at the request of town residents.
Throne-Holst also defended the town’s decision to create Erosion Control Districts (ECD) in Sagaponack, Water Mill and Bridgehampton, which enabled the town to undergo a massive beach renourishment program by taxing oceanfront homeowners separately. When asked by Costanza whether similar re-nourishment projects should be implemented elsewhere in town, Keith and Kabot voiced their opposition to publicly funding such a program.
“Nature is going to take its course no matter what we do and how much money we spend,” said Keith. “I’m not altogether sure that it’s the proper role of government or even a bonding entity to put together what amounts to projects that will save the oceanfront for those who own a few homes on that special piece of land. I’m not really in favor.”
“I do not believe that that model for that area—Water Mill, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack— should be translated to other areas of the town,” said Kabot. “But if other areas of the town wanted to form an erosion control district, we the town board would facilitate that.”
Throne-Holst called the $26 million project “a gift to every single one of us in this room and in the Town of Southampton. Stretching across six miles of beach, the 141 homes—
which represent $1.8 billion of assessed property value, according to the supervisor—“are funding this project at no cost to any of us,” she said.
“There’s no doubt that nature takes its course but we as humans take our course, too,” said Throne-Holst.
The next debate between Southampton Town supervisor candidates will be held at the North Sea Community House on Monday, October 7 at 7 p.m. and will be sponsored by the North Sea Community Association.