The owner had encouraged public use of this courtyard for 31 years, because that unhampered traffic created business for the stores he had rented. Now, to prevent public access, the owner has erected a stockade fence with a sign, “Private Property.”
“I believe in private property rights,” a former member of the Southampton Village Planning Board told me recently, with a dash of religious fervor. But private property rights are a matter of laws, not of beliefs.
“Does SEQRA trump private property rights?” a former chair of the Planning Board asked the board’s lawyer after two lawyers, speaking for residents and visitors who treasure that iconic brick courtyard, demanded a full review of the applicant’s plan to build a huge new retail complex over that courtyard, right out to the street.
Hell, yes, SEQRA trumps private property rights! That’s why the State Legislature passed that law — to protect municipalities, taxpayers, residents and voters from a property owner who insists on putting his “private property rights” ahead of ours.
Our local boards, staffed with volunteers, make those decisions. And that’s just how it should be. We sure as hell don’t want some bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., or in Albany deciding how and where we should live in our village.
But aren’t these folks who volunteer on our behalf supposed to know what the mission of their board is? And aren’t they supposed to know that our own village zoning code is mandated by state law to implement a Comprehensive Plan, in which the local village residents spell out unambiguously what they want their village, their streets, their neighborhoods to look like in the future? Aren’t they supposed to know how magnificently our own village code, in Chapter 65, protects us against the greedy plans of the owner of the brick courtyard, which has been part and parcel of our village public space for more than three decades, with his obvious consent?
Who is calling the shots? And who is speaking out for your private property rights and mine?
With the plunder of the iconic brick courtyard on Jobs Lane, we have an opportunity and a civic duty to demand change in Southampton Village by our trustee-appointed members of the village boards whose actions (and inactions) determine what Southampton Village will look like in the future — who will be able to afford to live here, dine here, shop here.
Shall we act, or shall we lose what’s left of our cherished village character and our treasured quality of life?
Evelyn KonradAttorney at law
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