We recently became Southampton part-timers and have had relatively little exposure to the inner workings of Southampton Town government.
However, it only took one experience with the Conservation Board to believe that it operates as a social club, wielding its power to benefit friends and fellow government employees, whether or not the actions are lawful, comply with town code, and/or satisfy their mandate to protect and preserve the wetlands.
We are the neighbors of a state government employee who has lived in the town throughout his life and who has worked directly with the town on code enforcement (per James Burke, town attorney). Starting in 2016, said neighbor applied for a conservation permit to develop his low-lying waterfront property, which had a history of flooding. The original application proposed building a house almost three times the size of the existing dwelling.
At that time, the proposed structure and septic system largely complied with town and New York State code regarding setbacks from the wetlands. However, over time, through several administrative approvals not requiring board discussion or public notification, the plan was modified to be increasingly out of code.
The most notable modification occurred in March 2018, when approval was given to place a shed large enough to comfortably house a Volkswagon bus 75 feet from the wetlands. This action was unlawful, in that town code allows administrative approvals for accessory structures “only when such activities occur no closer than 100 feet landward of the wetlands boundary” and “will not have an undue adverse impact on wetlands.”
When we raised questions, neither the Conservation Board nor the Town Council showed any interest. At the hearing for a final revised application, Conservation Board member Michael Tessitore forbid us from talking about any previous plan iterations and, consequently, these earlier actions, in our public comments.
The worst was yet to come, however, as the Conservation Board subsequently made the bonehead decision to allow movement of the septic system toward the wetlands — almost 40 feet out of compliance with code — making room for the shed in the septic system’s original location, and hypocritically and irrationally citing movement of the shed back from its unlawfully approved location as adequate “mitigation” for the adverse impact of moving the septic system forward.
The net effect of these actions was that the Conservation Board approved movement of a septic system from a compliant to a noncompliant location to allow placement of a nonessential shed on an overbuilt lot and potentially to avoid consequences of their earlier unlawful action.
The overarching effect is that the environment and wetlands are not being adequately protected, and the town is unapologetically showing special favor to its own.
Diane and Henry Riewerts
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One fine body…