They call themselves the Unoccupy the Hamptons movement. And no, they have nothing to do with Wall Street.
An impassioned contingent of Springs residents appeared before the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday to express frustration over illegal overcrowding, an ongoing issue in their hamlet that they feel is largely being ignored by town officials.
About 10 people spoke at last week’s meeting on the issue, some calling for the Town Board to hold a summit at which the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department would be on hand to field concerns about quality of life issues that they claim have become a part of everyday life for the community— large numbers of cars parked at properties, an unsafe number of residents packed into homes and the high enrollment at Springs School that has led to an explosion in school taxes. The group was organized by David and Carol Buda, two Springs residents who have largely led the charge on the issue.
“What happens with the overcrowdedness is that the quality of life is really changing,” said Irena Grant, the wife of John B. Grant, the vice president of the Springs School Board. She spoke about the transformation of her neighborhood, from a community with neighbors who knew each other to one full of “shadowy persons.” She claimed it has led to an increase in crime in the area, specifically an increase in the number of DWIs.
“I don’t know how many more accidents it’s going to take, how many more broken bones it’s going to take, before something is done about that,” she said.
Mr. Buda, who coined the phrase “Unoccupy the Hamptons,” reminded the board that he suggested some approaches that could address the issue, including strengthening ordinances so that voluntary inspections and judicial warrants are more easily attainable. He also has suggested dedicating a work session or workshop at which Public Safety Administrator Patrick Gunn and Code Enforcement Director Betsy Bambrick are on hand to field public concerns, and “where there would be an opportunity for elected officials to respond.”
Ms. Buda, who called the situation a “crisis,” echoed those concerns.
“The community has questions,” she said. “We’d like answers. I’m personally a little stunned it’s been two weeks. I thought it was a fairly simple request.”
Another resident, Bill Bates, said several years ago when he was a volunteer firefighter he recalled a particularly tragic case of a fire at an overcrowded home in Springs where children died. He said he can still hear their screams.
“I don’t want to hear that at night,” he said. “I don’t think any one of you want to hear that at night.”
Tina Piette, of Springs, said she was concerned about the “spying” on neighbors that has occurred in Springs. She also said she felt the town has already addressed the issue of illegal overcrowding through its Ordinance Enforcement Department. “I am truly uncomfortable, and I’m sure I said this a year ago, with this being spying on your neighbors, taking pictures of your neighbors,” she said.
At the end of public comment period, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson ticked off the number of Ordinance Enforcement cases last year in Springs. He said 111 cases had been opened and 94 of them eventually were heard in the town’s Justice Court. He said 974 code violations were written— on average about 10.3 per case.
The day after the Town Board meeting, Mr. Wilkinson said he got about seven phone calls from constituents who said they were upset about the way the group was talking about those people—often illegal immigrants—who are primarily the residents in the overcrowded homes.
“I was embarrassed that expressions like ‘those people,’ ‘these people,’ ‘pandemic’ were used,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “It’s pretty disturbing to me that there are some undertones to this that are not very nice … I don’t like the dynamic. I don’t care for it. I’ll clearly support us not getting to those types of personal confrontations. It’s disturbing.”