By Claire Walla
For several years, Southampton Town officials have made attempts to create a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), but nothing ever came to fruition. This year, the town is confident plans to finally institute the plan will succeed. However, the Southampton Town Trustees — which have jurisdiction over all town waterways up to the high-water mark — want nothing to do with it.
“The LWRP delves into everything the trustees do,” said trustee Ed Warner. “It’s just going to complicate the whole process.”
At a trustee meeting last Monday, January 3, members voted to pass a resolution exempting the trustees’ jurisdiction from any proposed LWRP. According to the resolution, “the Trustees do not wish any town agency to include any lands or structures under trustee jurisdiction in any application to New York State, specifically any Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.”
LWRPs are administered and approved by the state. So, even though the planning document is prepared at the local level, a state representative will work with the town to analyze local land and water systems and ultimately form a comprehensive plan for future growth and development.
Town trustees worry that adding another layer of bureaucracy will merely elongate the time it takes them to make decisions.
“It could take years for a simple rule change,” Warner added. “Now, we can make a decision right away. For example, if we had a major coastal storm and 50 people needed sandbagging, [with the state involved] we wouldn’t be able to expedite that process.”
A Southampton Town steering committee has been created to discuss the prospect of implementing an LWRP. It is composed of Southampton Town Land Management officials, as well as Warner and town councilwoman Bridget Fleming.
“The town has no interest in changing the authority of the trustees,” Fleming said. But, she added, there are certain issues — like stormwater runoff — that bridge the divide between water and land regulations.
“Stormwater affects what the trustees do, but they can’t regulate that,” she said adding that this is one area where a comprehensive plan would come in handy.
Fleming said she welcomed hearing the trustees’ concerns, because the steering committee hopes to tease out any issues in order to implement a plan that has more perks than not.
“One objection [to the LWRP] is that it might introduce additional regulations,” she said. “This is important to consider, but we also need to look at how land-use regulation affects the quality of our waterways. [The LWRP] gives us an opportunity to consider that in a holistic way.”
At a meeting of the trustees on December 20, members heard from several trustees in neighboring districts with LWRPs of their own, like East Hampton and Southold. They also heard from Robert Herrmann, a consultant who studied the affects of these LWRPs.
Hermann explained that the LWRP has made many processes more cumbersome, such as issuing site-specific permits. He added that the town has to fill out pages and pages of compliance reviews and assessments, then wait for the Department of State approve them, or not.
“I don’t think that the Southold Town Board fully contemplated what they were adopting until it was adopted and they saw the results of it,” Herrmann said.
However, Fleming reiterated the benefits of such a plan.
“This is a big town, and we have an extensive waterway system. [Forming a comprehensive plan] is not going to happen naturally,” she said, and explained that the town welcomes state aid for such a complex project.
“An LWRP would provide a comprehensive plan for the waters,” she added. “And if it’s also a revenue source for grant money in the future, then that’s a good thing we shouldn’t reject out of hand.”
At this point, even though the trustees have opted out of being governed by a proposed LWRP, Fleming said the town will still work with the trustees as LWRP discussions continue.
“We still value the trustees’ opinions,” she said. “Even if they’re not regulated [by an LWRP], they’re going to help inform it.”