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Comprehensive Plan? It May Be Neither

After three and a half years, two consultants, and considerable effort by residents to play an effective part in its writing, the new East Hampton Town Comprehensive Plan will be presented officially tomorrow. We expect the public hearing on it that will begin at 10 am, at East Hampton High School will be dominated by critics who see it as favoring development over preservation. At best it lays the groundwork for the management of future growth, notably by creating mixed residential and commercial districts in Springs, Wainscott, Amagansett, and Montauk.

We won't bore you with how we got to this unfortunate point, except to say that, if anything, the document got worse as time wore on, In hindsight, the vague, error plagued draft written by the first consultant, Lee B. Koppelman, seems superior to what is now on the table.

We have grown increasingly suspicious of the document's boosters, who appear to have resorted to scare tactics to promote a pro-development agenda. They say more growth than most of us want is inevitable and that managing it is the best we can do, For example, the number of potential new houses in the plan 6,057 — appears to have been inflated considerably or, at least, accepted unquestioningly.

In 1999, the last year for which independent numbers are available, the town did have about 6,000 vacant residential lots, but 3,256 of them were rated as not necessarily buildable. And— and this is a big and the number included Gardiner’s Island, which is unlikely ever to be built on although it is zoned for five acre residential lots. Since 1999, of course, hundreds of building permits have been issued and a lot of acreage has been preserved, reducing the number substantially. What is the real number? You won't find it in this draft.

Another scary claim in the document is that provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act mean the town's ability to control growth is limited. This threat is less convincing when you remember that over the last 20 years East Hampton Town has put together a record of building reasonably priced housing that is the envy of other municipalities.

The plan's authors may insist that they are acting responsibly in providing a worst case scenario, but it could be that they are trying to beat East Hamptoners over the head with the twin specters of an explosive population and federal litigation, neither of which is a sure thing.

Looking at the plan as a whole, the omission of meaningful discussion of open space preservation and groundwater protection means that it is far from comprehensive. Excised by the town board, these critical topics are now the subject of their own plans, which may or may not be integrated later with the overall document.

Unfortunately, the best hope for East Hampton Town may be to chalk this effort up as a learning experience and to focus on continuing to grapple with all the issues on an individual basis. The document being presented tomorrow as a comprehensive plan is neither.