The good news is that, like many in Southampton Village, I am grateful to Heart of the Hamptons for their work to address food insecurity in and around our community. Service organizations such as HOH are the lifeblood of healthy and caring communities, and I look forward to the chance to volunteer at whatever new facility they create.
The bad news is that their push for a new home at the former ambulance barn on Meeting House Lane has been poorly handled from the start. Worse yet, the reaction of some HOH supporters to the understandable neighborhood and civic concerns is inappropriate. It is also unworthy of an organization built on caring: Your neighbors and fellow residents deserve care, too, even if they disagree with you.
As Molly Bishop points out in her recent letter [“A Safety Net,” Letters, August 19], the village trustees approved the lease of the ambulance barn to HOH. But rather than being the umbrella of authorization Ms. Bishop seemingly intends, the “approval” of that lease is exactly where the problems started.
New York State law and precedent make it clear that any municipally owned facility is a public asset, and the decommissioning or repurposing of such an asset should be subject to open review and consideration of all potential uses. But there was no broad review. Instead, a pre-packaged plan to lease it to HOH was presented as a fait accompli.
Since the lease effectively required a variance or re-zoning, neighbors should have been noticed but were not. The lease of a public facility is a municipal action requiring SEQRA review, but none was performed. No evaluation of the net benefits of the HOH lease versus other potential uses was done.
The proposed use as a food pantry is prohibited under village code and inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, which makes it illegal under New York State law.
The problem is not disgruntled neighbors. The problem is and always has been that the village and/or HOH, possibly both, failed to follow sound legal advice, either because they didn’t seek it or because they received but chose to ignore it. (One wonders if this is an example of the “dissimilarity in our approach to the conduct of village government” cited in former Village Attorney Brian Egan’s letter of resignation.)
What we need now is a little adult supervision, which perhaps our new trustees can provide. The village and HOH should take a deep breath, go back to the beginning based on solid legal advice, and do what should have been done from the start.
In addition to hearts, residents also have heads. And rights. And a code. And I would ask that the village and HOH respect them.
One fine body…