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Wainscott incorporation activists demand a vote

An effort by some residents of Wainscott to create an incorporated village in a 4.4-acre expanse of that hamlet moved forward on Dec. 30 with the submission to East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc of a petition with over 200 signatures.

The move delivers on a promise by Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a group motivated by opposition to the South Fork Wind Farm’s export cable’s proposed landing at the Beach Lane road end in that hamlet. The town board and town trustees, after long negotiations with the wind farm’s developers, intend to grant rights to land the cable at the beach and install it on a subterranean path along town-owned roads to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton.

C.P.W.’s members argue for the cable’s landing elsewhere in the town, recently advocating for Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett. With an eye to incorporation, second-home owners were encouraged to vote in the town. The group’s website points to Wainscott’s “disproportionate set of burdens,” citing contaminated groundwater, discovered in 2017, and incessant air traffic to and from East Hampton Airport, as further motivation for incorporation.

The proposed village’s boundaries were drawn in keeping with New York State law requiring the use of metes and bounds, or roadways and waterways, and an area not greater than five square miles. Wainscott Village would exceed the state’s minimum requirement of 500 residents.

The campaign to incorporate, which if successful would exclude scores of the hamlet’s current residents from the new village in order to comply with state law, has been fiercely debated at recent meetings of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee. Proponents tout self-determination with minimal additional tax burden, while opponents decry what they call opaque, privately-funded Nimbyism that greatly understates the true cost.

“Nearly a third of registered voters in the proposed territory have requested an official election to create the 33rd village in Suffolk County,” according to a statement issued by the campaign. “That strong support – despite the limitations of gathering signatures imposed by Covid-19 concerns and holiday travel – clearly demonstrates the public desire for self-determination and self-rule.”

“The strong response to the petition sends a clear message that the people of Wainscott support creation of a new village,” Gouri Edlich, C.P.W.’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “At a time when too many government leaders want to nullify the will of the people, we expect Supervisor Van Scoyoc to take a different path and move promptly to call the public hearing and set the date for an election. In the end, all the registered voters in the proposed village should decide this question, not one man. While early indications from the Supervisor are concerning, we hope that he will now embrace the democratic process and passion so evident in Wainscott.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc has 30 days to review the petition, determine if it meets the requirements of the state incorporation law, and decide whether or not to certify it. If the petition meets the legal threshold, he is to call a public hearing and set a date for a referendum. Only registered voters in the proposed village would vote.

“I really don’t have too much to say about it,” the supervisor told The Star on Tuesday, “other than I have a statutory obligation to review the petition and decide whether or not it meets the requirements of the village incorporation law, and to certify or not certify it.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc expressed disapproval and frustration with the campaign, as he had last month at a meeting of the hamlet’s advisory committee. “I’m disappointed,” he said, “that some people feel that trying to keep a renewable energy project from placing a transmission cable under the roads . . . I guess the result of all this is that there would be some manhole covers in the road in Wainscott, and that was enough to spur people to want to secede from the town. I find that disappointing, but maybe not surprising.”

Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott claims broad support for incorporation, saying that the signatures on the petition represent a cross-section of longtime and newer residents, those living north and south of Montauk Highway, and property owners and renters alike. A village, according to the group’s statement, “would better protect property values from any continued town mismanagement.” A relationship between peers, it says, “would also better represent Wainscott’s voice on noise and contamination issues at the town-managed and owned airport.”

The group foresees a lean village government carrying out limited duties, and assumes a mayor and board of trustees serving on a volunteer basis. Revenues would come from property and utility gross receipts taxes, franchise fees and other fees and fines, code enforcement, beach parking, and state aid. The group’s consultants estimate a 2022 budget of $838,628, with $50,000 annual surpluses to build reserves. “As East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Lawson [sic] said a few weeks ago, village governments are closest to the people and best represent the interests of its people,” Ms. Edlich said in the statement. Jerry Larsen, East Hampton Village’s former police chief, was elected mayor last year.

The group foresees the town continuing to provide services such as police and firefighters, tax assessment, highways, and airport management, via intermunicipal agreements. Shared-services agreements could also be forged with the neighboring villages of East Hampton, Sagaponack, and Sag Harbor, it said.

The consultants asserted last month that the median single-family residence in a Wainscott Village would pay an estimated $340 more in property taxes annually, its residents continuing to enjoy the lowest overall tax bills in the town.

Wainscott residents falling outside the new village’s boundaries have expressed “a strong desire to expand the boundaries,” the group said, with annexation possible after incorporation.

The incorporation effort is again on the agenda of the hamlet’s citizens advisory committee, the next meeting of which is on Saturday.