The Southold Town election campaign has barely started and it’s almost over.
Election Day is just four weeks from Tuesday, but aside from some minor skirmishes and two minor party judicial primaries in September, all is preternaturally quiet.
That’s not altogether surprising, given the current economic climate. Over the years a number of issues such as ferry traffic and affordable housing have rocketed to prominence only to then fall back to earth. The one concern that never vanishes is how the town will develop over the next 20 years. That can be viewed from different angles.
Preservationists say the town’s character and economy both depend upon keeping Southold as close as possible to as-is. Aside from protecting the environment for the environment’s sake, the thinking is that open space and clean water form the foundation of the tourism industry and if Southold starts looking like everywhere else, visitors will go elsewhere. The flip side of that is the realization that not every business is tied to tourism and that developing a reputation as “the land of no” stifles business growth and with it the opportunity to increase commercial tax revenue to lighten the burden on homeowners.
In short, it’s all about real estate, and has been for decades. But since the sub-prime mortgage debacle sent the national economy into free-fall in 2008, that market is down substantially. Even with prices down, there’s a lot of available inventory, as the agents might say. With a weak demand for mid-priced homes, there’s no money to be made in carving up open land into separate building lots — for now at least.
Without the type of intense pressure to develop and build that shaped previous elections, land use questions becomes philosophical. It comes down to which group of candidates is better equipped to maintain a balance between reasonable, sustainable growth and pure preservation.
They’ll be out there for the next month, most likely handing out literature at post offices and supermarkets and Chamber of Commerce dinners. The Suffolk Times will moderate what appears to be the sole candidates debate, at Peconic Landing in Greenport on Thursday, Oct. 27. That there’s been no slinging of mud — so far — and no obvious overarching issue is no excuse for ignoring the election. Don’t be lulled into complacency.
While the race may not be noisy, it does matter.