Community or Commodity? - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 2097624

Community or Commodity?

Last week, I shared my take on several significant zoning and market changes that have contributed to the shortage of homes for local working class residents on the East End. This week, let’s talk about preservation, which you spoke about in your recent 27Speaks podcast [“Land Preservation and Housing Affordability: How Will They Co-exist?”].

As Assemblyman Fred Thiele often says, our environment is our economy on the East End of Long Island, and we need to protect it! I couldn’t agree more. The Shinnecock, Montaukett, Manhansett and all the Indigenous people have been stewards of our environment for thousands of years. The post-colonial eastern Long Island heritage industries of fishing, farming, tourism and the arts have been based upon our beautiful and healthy environment for hundreds of years.

Colonialism and development have put a major strain on our environment. Roads, cars, traffic emissions, septic systems, fertilizers, chemicals, fossil fuel heating systems, light pollution — all have put enormous stress on our environment. Fortunately, we’re actively developing green technology, alternative septic systems and other strategies to mitigate those impacts.

It’s time to focus on preservation of our people now as well. Human life is at least as valuable as wildlife, right? At times, it seems like the local working class is under assault the same way that the Indigenous people have been since the 1600s. The commodification of real estate — the ownership, price, value, worth and status of property — appears more important than how it serves as a place to live, a home, for our local community members who live and work here.

We have set up a concept of development where a property owner can build a 10,000-square-foot estate with 10 bedrooms, 12 baths, pool, pool house and tennis, just by filing an application to the Building Department. But we can’t build five 2,000-square-foot homes, each with two or three bedrooms and two baths, on that same property without a special exception permit: hearings, public meetings and political votes. What’s the difference? Similar number of beds and baths. Similar building footprint.

We’re all concerned about protecting our environment and about overdevelopment. But the public can’t come out and object to the 10,000-square-foot estate, because it is permitted in our zoning. Yet all that frustration around overdevelopment comes out when an application requires a special exception and public hearings. I see a lot of that frustration as misdirected.

Why would we publicly object to building a home, be it a rental or for purchase, for local teachers, firefighters, EMTs, essential workers, business owners, seniors or young people and not publicly object to an estate home? It’s because we can.

And that’s messed up.

Michael Daly

East End YIMBY

Sag Harbor