Improving the Town Code

October 5th, 2023

To: Peter Van Scoyoc, East Hampton Town Supervisor East Hampton Board
From: ChangeHampton, PO Box 4227, EH, NY 11937; info@changehampton.org

Re: Submission by the Working Group of “Purposes of the Zoning Code” to the Town Board in process for re-working zoning codes for East Hampton. Public Hearing Thursday, Oct. 5

Dear Supervisor and Board:

My name is Gail Pellett and I am here to read a letter on this submission from our organization, ChangeHampton.

We at ChangeHampton came together to address the climate emergency and calamitous loss of biodiversity and beneficial species of insects and birds by promoting restorative landscaping. We, therefore, are hugely concerned about all of the issues that threaten our biodiversity—the clearing of land for ever larger houses, decks, garages, driveways and pools, the planting of non-native species; the removal of biodiverse habitat to create dead ecological zones, aka, turf lawns, which encourage poisonous and unsustainable practices to maintain.

We have tried to take a positive approach to this issue by creating a model of what a private or public property yard or landscape might look like when focused on native and pollinator friendly plantings. You can see our first effort of that model outside this window. We promote pollinator pathways in an effort to combat that catastrophic loss of our pollinator insects and birds.

But we are deluding ourselves if we continue the way we are going with permitting the excessive-sized houses which require excessive clearing and coverage of land and the incessant cutting down of our major keystone pollinator trees, shrubs, plants and grasses. We are especially concerned about oak trees (The giants of the keystone trees that support more than 500 species of insects & pollinators). As individuals we have all witnessed the tragic campaign of sawing down 100+ year old Oaks to make way for bigger homes, that require bigger septics and driveways.

So we champion this effort to address these vital issues as they relate to our codes and regulations regarding the built environment in East Hampton. We support the working groups proposed draft of the “purposes of the zoning code.”

Sadly we’ve all watched over the past four decades as real estate profits reshaped the character of this community and we have listened for years to the complaints of long time residents about the unraveling that has come with a frenzied and speculative real estate market. There’s nothing the matter with making profits. It’s how our system works. But the scale of that greed is destroying this place.

Also, we have regulations now but we are caught between either a system of “variances” and “relief” (why do we not use the word “circumvent”?) from keeping to those code regulations and our inability to adequately “enforce” those regulations. When our Zoning Board tries to apply those codes strictly, they are contradicted by property owners with the means to litigate until they get what they want. Everyone on this board knows the many ways that constellation of realities has undermined our ability as a community to protect our precious landscapes and waterways and community ethos.

Our priorities should always be: health, sustainability, resiliency of our fragile landscape and waters in East Hampton. What we do in our yards, on our private and public properties, affects the health and resiliency of our whole community, our waters and marine life. Ultimately it is about the health of all of our species. Including ourselves.

Ecological systems do not recognize property lines. The natural systems we need for a resilient response to climate catastrophe are threatened by fragmentation. These cross-property systems need protection. They serve us all. They clean our waters, protect our shorelines and wetlands, and nurture biodiversity. Without protection, they are subject to the whims of private property owners. Private property is a right but also bears a responsibility, the responsibility of stewardship for the common good.

We are facing a climate emergency. The Town has resolved to put that emergency in front of all of their decisions. We ask the town to move quickly to turn these recommendations into meaningful code to encourage building practices that prioritize a healthy and sustainable environment and community.

Thank you for giving this community an opportunity to raise our voices.

Gail Pellett/ChangeHampton