Tag Archive | "CONPOSH"

Say Goodbye to CONPOSH

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By Bryan Boyhan

At its height, CONPOSH — the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor — was such an influential organization that prospective developers would come before them to see if the group — with representatives from nearly two dozen neighborhoods — planned to fight their application.

In the end, there was not even a handful left on the operating committee and after 18 years of hosting public forums and lobbying village officials, CONPOSH called it quits earlier this month.

“We voted to give the remaining $6,500 in our budget to the library,” said Valerie Justin, one of the last four members.

CONPOSH started in 1993, as development pressure in the village began to heat up and was imagined as an organization that could bring otherwise disparate groups together.

“The thing I noticed were there were various scattered neighborhood movements, fighting such things as a proposed nursing home and an apartment house,” said founding member Peter Davies in an interview this week.

“As soon as one group of neighbors started raising the roof, they were immediately labeled troublemakers, and shouted down,” said Davies. “I thought if we could form an alliance, we could make an issue everybody’s issue; we could all speak with one voice.”

Indeed, the first big challenge the group took on was a proposed nursing home at the 10 acre site of the former Cilli Farm at the end of Glover Street. Instead of letting the neighbors in the immediate vicinity fight the proposal alone, CONPOSH galvanized residents across the village to show up at planning meetings to press for more challenging reviews. The developer eventually relented and ultimately the property was preserved using, in part, money from the nascent Community Preservation Fund.

Davies said he drew the idea for identifying the different neighborhoods in Sag Harbor loosely on the old and new neighborhoods of Manhattan, including historical neighborhoods like Hells Kitchen, and relatively new incarnations like SoHo. In Sag Harbor there were long-established neighborhoods like Eastville, Redwood and Murray Hill; but Davies added places like Churches, in the area around Division and Union streets, and School, defining the neighborhood around Pierson High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School.

In the beginning there were about a dozen-and-a-half neighborhoods identified, but as the organization’s influence grew, it expanded to include 23, including one, Lily Pond, which was actually outside the village limits.

As organized, each neighborhood had a representative who brought issues before an organizational committee. From discussions about an issue, a facilitator would emerge — the organization never had an acting president or chairman, relying instead on the issue’s facilitator to move it forward.

Frequently that led to one of the group’s many public forums, which usually included a representative from local government, a member or two from CONPOSH versed on the issue and community members with specific expertise. These forums, which addressed subjects such as water quality, waste management, village budgets and candidates for village board, regularly attracted dozens of residents, elected officials and project developers — several with their attorneys in tow — to a half-dozen or more venues: the basement of the Old Whalers Church, the sanctuary of the Methodist Church, Bay Street Theatre.

“We were peripatetic,” said Davies. “We wanted to make sure we held meetings throughout the village as an attempt to bring the community together.”

Residents were kept abreast of CONPOSH news via a monthly newsletter, The Neighborhood Voice, edited — until their move out of the area several years ago — by Davies’ partner, Mark Scherzer. The newsletter updated its readers on action the organization or the village was taking and where the next forum was scheduled. The September 2002 issue, for example declared in a headline “ACTION NOW ON ROCCO’S, referencing a notorious nightclub on West Water Street. A forum (“Rocco’s — Neighbors Look for Relief”) was scheduled for Christ Episcopal  Church with Mia Grosjean and Valerie Justin as facilitators. After years of pressure from CONPOSH, residents and village officials, the building that housed the nightclub was sold and approved for condominiums which, at this writing, remain unfinished.

But the last issue of The Neighborhood Voice went in the mail in 2006, and forums became less frequent. Membership dwindled and there were fewer hands to organize.

“Honestly, there was nobody who was willing to do anything,” said Justin. “You can’t have the same three people doing everything.”

Justin, who observed the entire arc of CONPOSH from the inside, said the organization had accomplished much in its nearly two decades, including pushing for filtration at Havens Beach, preserving the Cilli Farm and educating the public about traffic calming.

“Even if what we did didn’t solve the problem,” said Justin, “it made the authorities aware of public opinion.”

Change Afoot: CONPOSH Welcomes the New Year

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It was not surprising that at last Friday’s New Year’s Day open house, the annual floating party hosted by the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor, that much of the conversation was about the weather.

In particular, many of the several hundred guests that floated through the homes of  Jacqueline Rea and Bob Weinstein and Eric Hensley, glasses of wine and wings of fried chicken in hand, spoke abut the blanket of snow which had recently fallen on the village, the blizzard that had blown through a week before, and the predictions of white stuff still expected to come.

And for some, all that slippery snow is a real problem, and when asked what issues should be addressed in the coming year, it was right at the top of the list.

“Keeping the streets safe by shoveling; it’s awful,” said village resident Martha Siegler, who added her walk downtown is hampered by those who do not clear their sidewalks.

“The biggest offenders are the Whaling Museum, the Custom House and the historical society,” claimed Siegler, who argued the walks in front of the Main Street organizations were not cleared following the last storm.

“It’s difficult to get around, it’s nonsense,” she said.

Siegler observed there was a village law requiring people to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses, and suggested the village enforce those laws.

When one guest suggested the village using snow blowers, Jean Holabird chimed in “snowblowers and leaf blowers are awful.”

For others, though, the issues ahead were less weather related.

“It’s got to be housing,” opined Duncan Haile. “Trying to find affordable places for people to live.”

“I’d say it’s Bulova; it’s terrible that it just sits there like that,” said Felix McGibbon. “Maybe the village could find some way of making it easier for them. And maybe find some way to encourage the developer to use local workers, who are currently struggling to find work, to be part of the project.”

For Miriam Dougenis, the price of living here is something that needs to be addressed.

“I think we have to find ways of keeping costs down,” she said, noting when she and her late husband first moved to Sag Harbor decades ago it was not the high-end place it has become. “The cost of living here has become very expensive.”

“Then, of course, there’s also Ferry Road,” said Dougenis, who has been leading an effort to urge the Village of Sag Harbor to purchase the piece of property at the foot of the bridge known as 1 Ferry Road. The current owner, developer Michael Maidan, hopes to build a condominium complex at the site, but Dougenis and others would like to  see it preserved for public use.

“It’s the last piece of village-owned beach, and it would be nice to preserve that view,” observed Dougenis.

“Groups like CONPOSH and Save Sag Harbor, we’ve been trying to keep Sag Harbor the same,” said Dougenis. “But,” she conceded, “I suppose it has to change a little.”

To Privatise Or Not: CONPOSH Weighs in on Town’s Waste Management Proposal

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CONPOSH, or the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor, often holds meetings on controversial local topics. On Sunday, waste management in Southampton Town was the subject of the day at a panel discussion held at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church. Town residents were invited to debate the merits of a town proposal to privatise its waste management operations. Trash often isn’t an emotional topic, but it is for many residents as waste management procedures ties into environmental and quality of life issues.
“The bottom line is that these are changing times . . . We can no longer put sand over our trash and call it a day,” said panel member Councilman Chris Nuzzi , referencing the North Sea landfill and the town’s former method of handling its waste. The town currently monitors the landfill and operates four waste transfer stations in Sag Harbor, North Sea, Westhampton and Hampton Bays.
Alleged deficits in the Waste Management fund, however, have caused the town to explore cost cutting measures, including privatization. Supervisor Linda Kabot , also on the panel, said auditors revealed a $2 million fund deficit in January of 2008. A pending outside audit, she added, will likely show around $3 million debt at year end in 2008. Nuzzi refuted these figures and argued that recent efforts to charge other municipal departments for their waste disposal will show that the fund breaks even.
Currently, the town spends $1 million to monitor the landfill using taxpayer dollars. The transfer stations are funded through other revenues from the “Green Bag” program, recyclables and other fees.
Kabot and members of the public, however, contended these revenues don’t sustain the waste management program. The market for recyclables is volatile, often changing from one day to the next, and extremely difficult to use in crafting an annual budget.
Southampton Town Environmental Facilities Manager later noted that use of the transfer station is down almost 8 percent over the last year, although Sag Harbor shows consistent rates of use.Kabot stipulated only around 15 percent of residents frequent the stations with the other 85 percent hiring private trash hauling companies.
Privatization could create a more economically efficient system, argued Kabot. She explained that a private company would lease the transfer station equipment and facilities from where they could operate a private business. The stations would still be open to the public, but the town would have to pay to have its municipal waste processed.
“What make us think that a private facility would run any more efficiently? If the town hasn’t been able to do it why would a private company be able to do it?” asked panelist and member of the Southampton Town Residents Against Pollution group Dan Gebbia . Several residents argued that privatizing waste management services will compromise the recycling program. Private operations at transfer stations would also increase traffic in residential neighborhoods, maintained others. Panelist Skip Norsic , president of a private waste hauling company, estimated that almost 30 percent of the town’s residents used the town dumps, refuting Kabot’s earlier claims. Any observed decreases in usage of the stations, contended some audience members, wasn’t the fault of the service but a lack of waste management education in the community.
Aside from the political aspect of privatization, Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca questioned the role of the community in lessening the volume of waste.
“We are generating the garbage the government has to deal with,” remarked DeLuca. “On Long Island we produce almost six pounds of solid water per person per day. All of us have to do a better job and think about producing less.”
A similar discussion on privatizing the town’s waste management program will be held on October 20 at the Southampton Youth Services.

Gratto Talks Budget with CONPOSH

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“I have a terrific job … but sometimes I feel like an umpire,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, as he spoke to a mixed audience at a CONPOSH (Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor) meeting in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church last Sunday.

In addition to CONPOSH members, among the attendees were members from the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), Sag Harbor Village mayoral candidate Mike Bromberg and school board candidates Elena Loreto, Walter Wilcoxen, Gregg Schiavoni and Edward Drohan. The purpose of the meeting, however, was a specific one: to discuss the 2009-2010 school budget, which is up for a vote on May 19.

When crafting a budget, Gratto said it is all a balancing act. He noted that while some parents, for example, would like to see a completely new auditorium constructed at Pierson, other taxpayers wonder why more drastic cuts weren’t made to the budget this year.

“The question isn’t the cost per student. The question is: Is the school district providing the programs the community wants in the most cost effective manner,” said Gratto. “We need to realize one extreme or the other doesn’t serve the community well. We can’t have an abundance of programs … [nor] can we cut the tax rate down as much as [some] people want … I feel like the steward of taxpayer dollars and I take that responsibility seriously.”

Since taking office last year, Gratto said he has strived to maintain the school’s academic rigor while creating economic efficiencies. Last September, Gratto saved the school district around $310,000 by consolidating three business positions into two, combining the athletic director and head of buildings and grounds positions, eliminating and renegotiating special education contracts, reducing BOCES services and switching telephone providers. Gratto built-in almost $700,000 in cost saving measures for the 2009-2010 budget. These steps include cutting purchased BOCES services by $278,825, reducing discretionary spending by $151,111, purchasing a bus and van resulting in $126,549 of savings and decreasing dental insurance costs by $17,899.

The 2009-2010 school budget is around $29 million. The taxpayer’s portion of this sum, Gratto reported, will be slightly offset by additional federal monies. He said the school district will receive $141,594 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to help renovate the auditorium, though the total project is budgeted at $195,000.

This extra federal support, he explained, will help lower the tax rate increase from 4.35 percent to 3.79 percent for residents on the Southampton side of the school district and from 4.33 percent to 3.77 percent for those on the East Hampton side of the village.

Members of the audience questioned the budget increases incurred by teacher and teaching assistant salaries as well as monies set aside for teacher’s retirements. Sheila Goldberg, a retired educator and Sag Harbor resident, countered these concerns.

“A lot of people get angry about taxes before the budget,” she said and added that the school budget remains one of the only financial plans the public is allowed to vote on. Goldberg mentioned the state legislature is exploring enacting a tax cap on school district tax levies or creating a “circuit-breaker” on property taxes.

If the tax cap was enacted this year, the cap would be set at 4 percent said Gratto. The “circuit-breaker” would effectively cap an individual’s property taxes. The cap would be based on the taxpayer’s annual income. Although these ideas are being bounced around in the state legislature, Gratto said they are years away from implementation.

In the here and now, Gratto is looking for other ways to save costs for taxpayers and improve programs. He said the district is courting the idea of creating a joint pre-kindergarten program with the Bridgehampton School District, which already has an active pre-k course. Elementary school principal Joan Frisicano has already discussed the concept with Bridgehampton superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and delivered a cursory presentation on the idea at the Wednesday Board of Education meeting.

Gratto believes the school can absorb an additional 20 to 25 students without increasing staff or incurring additional costs. With some parents feeling the pinch of the Ross School’s $30,000 annual price tag for high school, Pierson could soon be opening its doors to more out-of-district students.


CONPOSH Forum Focuses On Water

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With a topic as wide-ranging as “water,” the focus of a Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor meeting turned to water quality for many in the crowd of over 30 who gathered at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church on Sunday afternoon.

Panelists invited to the event were as varied as the topics discussed. Paddy South, the director of public relations for the Suffolk County Water Authority, Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer, East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny and Peconic BayKeeper Kevin MacAllister all attended, for the most part discussing what they were each working on in terms of what is arguably the East End’s most valuable resource — its water.

CONPOSH member Valerie Justin opened the forum by talking about the “critical need” to face the issue of stormwater runoff on the East End, as well as water quality in general, and oversight of valuable bodies of water, like those found on the Long Pond Greenbelt.

And with the exception of South, who focused on basic facts about the water authority, it was stormwater runoff and protecting natural resources that dominated the panelists’ presentations.

Larry Penny focused less on what the town was accomplishing, than what he felt residents should be wary of when it comes to water.

As natural resources director since 1984, Penny oversees some 410 nature preserves and helped author both the town’s comprehensive plan as well as a water resources plan.

“They don’t test enough and they don’t have enough study,” said Penny of the water quality on the East End, noting contaminants in water can cause disease. Penny did add the SCWA has been “leading the charge” in terms of conserving water and keeping it clean. However, he added, medical contaminants are a new challenge environmentalists must face. The drugs that people ingest can still be active, and may not be filtered out through sewage systems, said Penny. They can have wide ranging effects over time on the ecology and health in a community, he said.

Pesticides and nitrates, due to farming on the North Fork, he said, are also prevalent in the Peconic Estuary, and vector control and pesticide use also need to be monitored.

“We are still fighting things that have been put into the ground 30 years ago,” noted Penny, adding that the absence of bay scallops and the increase in the disappearance of eelgrass beds is directly connected to water quality.

“Why is the winter flounder population flat, zero,” asked Penny. “Because they like to breed in eel grass.”

Havemeyer, as a member of one of the oldest boards in the United States — the Southampton Town Trustees, which was founded in 1686 — is charged with protecting much of the water in Southampton.

One of the biggest issues the trustees contend with, he said, are dealing with development and protecting the wetlands in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The same principles used to protect saltwater can be applied to freshwater, said Havemeyer, including combating stormwater runoff, which Havemeyer and MacAllister agreed was one of the biggest threats to water quality on the East End.

Havemeyer advocated creating wetland buffers in any stormwater runoff area of concern as a natural filter.

MacAllister, as the Peconic Baykeeper, has been advocating for such a natural wetlands filter at Havens Beach for over a year now. On Sunday, he noted, as a Baykeeper initiated a testing cycle on the popular bathing beach was near completion, he expects the village will begin to address Havens Beach and other stormwater runoff sites as it moves forward with a comprehensive village stormwater runoff management plan.

 “Ninety percent of Long Island’s water bodies are considered impaired, meaning they do not support these kinds of uses,” said MacAllister of bathing, shellfishing and propagation of marine life as benchmarks for water quality. Road runoff, collecting a myriad of bacteria from pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria from pet and wild animal waste is primarily to blame, said MacAllister.

However, said MacAllister, it is not just the municipalities that are responsible for taking this task on. He noted the Baykeeper has a “bayscaping” program, focused on teaching East End residents how to care for their properties in an environmentally sensitive manner.

“We have to start employing this on an individual level, but also as a community,” said MacAllister.