The outgoing East Hampton Town Board has left a complex zoning change application -- involving a family that has farmed for generations -- for the incoming board.
At its final meeting Dec. 19, the board was unable to resolve an attempt to rezone 20 acres of farmland so that six homes could be built on a small part of the property. Under the proposal, 6 acres of the property would be subdivided for housing, 1 acre would be affordable under federal guidelines, and the other five would be sold at market prices.
The problem with the application was that it was originally filed as a rezoning request to allow 20 houses on the 19.3 acres, a plan the town planning board rejected several months ago.
The planning board said it would approve 3-acre zoning on the land, which now allows one house per 5 acres, with a 70 percent agricultural overlay restriction that does not allow development, and requires any homes to be clustered on the remaining 30 percent of the property.
That proposal to build six homes was sent for review to -- and rejected by -- the Suffolk County Planning Commission earlier this month, but the original 1-acre subdivision application was never changed at the town level.
The issue led to a lengthy public hearing on Dec. 19, with a few in the standing-room-only audience complaining that preserving farmland was important to the town. But most people appeared to support the large, extended farming family of John Talmage, who filed the application through Diamond T Limited Partnership.
Outgoing Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson suggested the town board hold the hearing open only so the planning department could formally review the 3-acre zoning proposal, and fellow Republican Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said the hearing should then be closed so the Talmages would not have to repeat their testimony.
But Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, one of two Democrats on the board, argued that the entire application process was flawed and should be started all over. "This is an extremely confusing and disruptive process," he said. "It sounds like a new application [is needed] to get it right."
After a fight by Republicans and Democrats, no conclusion was reached. Town officials said a new hearing would be required.
The discussion brought some members of the Talmage family to tears, as they told the town board that younger family members were being forced to move out of town because they cannot afford to live there.
It's a common problem in East Hampton, where most homes cost far more than young working families can afford, and there is a shortage of affordable housing for both the young and the elderly.
But, it struck particularly hard at the Talmage family, which has farmed in town for 12 generations, and was among its original settlers.
Christopher Talmage, whose 4-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter are the 13th generation, works in the Talmage paving contracting business on Cedar Street, next to the undeveloped land where the zoning change is being sought.
"We live in Hampton Bays [in the neighboring town of Southampton]. I commute to work every day," he told the town board. "Hampton Bays is more affordable for us right now."