The Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to the Town of Southampton has no intention of resting on their laurels following the town’s adoption of the Sag Harbor Gateway Study – a project they championed for years. Fueled by the momentum of a newly formed cooperative of citizen committees in the eastern half of the town, last week the CAC committed itself to supporting a similar land use study for County Road 39, and called for greater dialogue between citizen groups and both the town board and planning board.
The Sag Harbor CAC was instrumental in the creation and recent passage of the Sag Harbor Gateway Study, a years-long endeavor to ensure the gateway to the village would not be developed in the same fashion as County Road 39 in Southampton. On Friday, April 3 the committee welcomed Frank Zappone, chairman of the Southampton, Tuckahoe, Shinnecock Hills CAC whose own committee is concerned by a recent decision by the Southampton Town Board to lift a building moratorium on County Road 39 while a land use study is completed for the corridor. According to Zappone, the action is symptomatic of a larger issue in town government, where citizen advisory groups can find their voices fall on deaf ears, whether in front of the town board or when they step in too late on a project in front of the planning board.Â
In addition to serving as chair of his CAC, Zappone is also acting chairman of the Coalition East – a union of citizen groups east of the Shinnecock Canal formed to provide a support system between organizations and allow the groups to tackle regional issues in the town. He has also sought the vacant town planning board seat over the course of the last year and a half – a position that has yet to be filled.
According to Sag Harbor CAC chairman John Linder, the meeting is one of two sessions meant to focus on the town’s planning board and planning department. On Friday, May 15 the committee will welcome the Group for the East End, who will unveil a proposal to incorporate citizen committees in the planning process.
On Friday, ensuring CACs are heard cooperatively and individually, town planning was at the forefront of the discussion.
Â “John and I have talked periodically and lately more and more about the frustration of being in a CAC and getting people involved to make a truly meaningful impact,” said Zappone on Friday.
Zappone expressed frustration at the lack of notice citizen groups are given on development projects coming before the planning board. He said even when the CAC is given plans for projects in its jurisdiction, often the projects are so far down the pipeline it is nearly impossible to play a meaningful role in shaping a development to suit both the project sponsors and the community.
“After the horse is out of the barn why are you asking us for input,” he mused. “It serves no useful purpose at that point.”
Zappone admitted he has sought the vacant seat on the board for some of these very reasons, but has yet to even have his application acknowledged.
“Should we not look for some balance,” he wondered, adding it could be beneficial to have the planning board comprised of residents throughout the town or require a couple of members represent the minority political party.
“We are also concerned about the length of terms,” said Zappone, noting planning board members are appointed to seven-year terms with no term limits. “Two terms is 14 years. A particular mindset can dominate for an extended period of time without limits.”
Zappone expressed real frustration at the town board’s decision to lift a moratorium on development on County Road 39 while the town finishes its second land use study on the corridor – a study similar to the Gateway Study, albeit for a much larger gateway to the eastern side of Southampton.
Â “Take the pressure away and there is no reason to finish it quickly in terms of the commercial needs of a community,” explained Zappone, who added the moratorium also protected any projects from slipping in before any zoning changes could be made as a result of the study. While the board cited the economic crisis and a need to stimulate the economy through building projects, Zappone asked for a longer view, noting a number of establishments on County Road 39 are empty, seeking tenants.
“We can’t just look at one slice of the pie,” he said. “We have to look at the whole picture.”
“This just makes me mad as heck,” said committee member Priscilla Ciccariello. “I think as a neighbor CAC we should make this one of our issues. We should write a letter asking why the board lifted the moratorium, when the study will be completed and what will be done with it.”
Linder assured the moratorium had support from a number of CACs and community groups.
“We all use that highway,” agreed Ciccariello. “That is the entrance to this whole area and it has been years we have been saying we need to do something about this.”Â