Tag Archive | "southampton town hall"

Thiele Proposes New Zone for Higher Ed. in Southampton

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By Claire Walla

According to New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the fate of the college campus in Southampton has been put into question more than once in the last decade, which, in his opinion, is disconcerting.

To alleviate any uncertainty that may be swelling around that campus, especially in recent years, Thiele went to the Southampton Town Board last Friday, April 13 to propose legislation that would create a University-25 Zoning District in Southampton Town, specifically where Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus now sits.

There’s been a college campus in Southampton since 1963, when Long Island University built facilities there. And there the campus remained, relatively untouched, until 2005 when Long Island University announced it was for sale.

According to Thiele, a moratorium was then placed on the campus while a planning study was conducted. A year later, Stony Brook University stepped in and took over.

“When Stony Brook bought the campus [in 2006], all was well with the world,” he joked. “Then, of course, the sustainability program was transported to [the main campus], the dorms were closed and it was undetermined what the fate of the campus would be.”

In a surprising, last-minute decision, Stony Brook University decided to close all undergraduate operations at the oceanside campus at the tail end of the 2009-2010 academic year. The only operations that remained were graduate programs in creative writing and marine sciences.

After much debate and backlash from both students and lawmakers (Assemblyman Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle leading the fight), Stony Brook rescinded its decision in 2011, made a formal apology, and is now making plans to bring programs back to the campus.

The push to create an educational zoning district would be to ensure that the land always be used for higher education, no matter what.

It’s called University-25 because a minimum of 25 acres would be needed before the law could be enacted.  Although, at 82 acres, the Southampton property well exceeds that limitation; all 82 acres would fall under the town’s new educational zoning law, if enacted.

While Thiele said the property could theoretically be sub-divided at some point, he added that he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which that would take place.  Stony Brook University, which currently owns the land, is actually in support of the new zoning district.

Any voices of dissent could certainly challenge the new code (if enacted), Thiele continued, which would prompt the town the show that there’s “rational basis” for the zoning district to be enacted.

“I think the fact that it’s been a college for 50 years is certainly rational basis!” he said.

At the work session, Thiele said the thought of taking action to preserve this land for educational (and related) uses only came to him in a relatively random fashion.

“Quite frankly, I was doing research for something else when I came across Ithaca’s zoning ordinance,” Thiele explained. Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, has a zoning district reserved for higher education. He continued, “I had one of those ‘eureka!’ moments and said, ‘This would be great for the Southampton campus.’”

Because this would be town-wide legislation, Thiele pointed out that it would apply to the Long Island University campus in Riverhead, as well. When asked whether or not this zoning legislation would affect Stony Brook’s ability to build a hospital in Southampton, Thiele said it would not. The hospital would be regarded as a “related activity.”

The Southampton Town Board would now have to adopt a resolution to create the proposed University-25 Zoning District.

“In my view, this is a good goal, to [also work toward] maintaining that open space,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming. “I want to do whatever we can to preserve that.”

According to the town’s Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray, a public hearing on the matter will be set for May 22.

Southampton Town Picks New Comptroller

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Southampton Town Hall will undergo an administrative reshuffling in the Comptroller’s office. During a work session on Friday, May 22, town supervisor Linda Kabot announced by way of a resolution that as of June 1, Tamara Wright will be appointed as the town comptroller. Wright will serve out the remainder of current comptroller Steve Brautigam’s term, which expires in December 2009.

Since July 2008, Wright has worked as a financial consultant to the town. Brautigam will take over the position of Assistant Town Management Services Administrator, working under the authority of Richard Blowes, the town services administrator.

In addition to the new appointments, the duties of comptroller and assistant town administrator will be segregated. As always, the comptroller will oversee the financial reporting and accounting for the town, but the assistant town administrator will be responsible for many of the functions of the town’s capital program. Steve Brautigam will also coordinate between the town and the state comptroller, when the state conducts a risk analysis and audit. The state will likely commence the audit at the end of the summer or early fall, according to deputy supervisor Bill Jones.

“The intent of the re-organization is to provide greater leadership and strategic management for the comptroller’s office in terms of financial reporting and use of technology and staff resources to accomplish critical accounting duties for the town,” said Kabot in a press release distributed by the town last week.

“This reflects what I proposed several weeks ago,” councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst chimed in. “This comes at a time when we need to re-organize our financial oversight in the town.”

The decision appeared unanimous on the board, until councilman Chris Nuzzi raised complaints over Wright and Brautigam’s appointments.

“For months, I have raised numerous questions regarding how our current comptroller is performing in his job … Now it is my understanding that this inability is being rewarded with a $100,000 a year taxpayer-funded job offering … full benefits. This is completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Nuzzi in a statement released on Friday.

“In light of the continuing deliberation on budgetary numbers, capital dollars authorized and spent, authorized and unspent, fund balance amounts and budget reconciliations that have yet to be completed, I am calling for the withdrawal of this resolution,” continued Nuzzi.

According to Nuzzi, the resolution was previously discussed at a meeting attended by only four other board members, excluding himself, the supervisor’s office and the office of general services. He added that the decision of the new appointments was made “under the cloak of darkness” and that it was imprudent to vote on the resolution before a holiday weekend.

In his statement, Nuzzi recommended the town advertise for the comptroller’s position, conduct interviews in June and hold off on creating a new position in the office of general services.

Other members of the board, including Throne-Holst and councilwoman Sally Pope, strongly disagreed with Nuzzi’s statements saying the board had discussed the reorganization of the comptroller’s office for several months.

“We have discussed this issue for far too long without taking action. Yes we could have voted [on this resolution] at a regular board meeting, but we are not adding budget line. We are doing what we should have done a long time ago,” countered Throne-Holst.

“We have multiple audits underway. There is no question that our staff is being pulled away from the day to day operations of the town,” added councilwoman Nancy Graboski. “we need to have financial personnel who are on the inside.”

Kabot informed the audience that the resolution was budget neutral, meaning the town had already budgeted for the salaries of the comptroller and assistant town administrator. Wright will earn $115,000 a year, while Brautigam will earn $100,000. The town will also eliminate the director of audit and control position with a salary of $85,000.

Nuzzi’s comments did little to sway the other board member’s opinions and the resolution was passed.