Greenport Planning Board member Ben Burns will not seek another term

As his five-year term comes to a close, longtime Greenport Village Planning Board member Ben Burns will not be seeking another term.

Mr. Burns, 88, served as a village trustee from 1999 to 2003 and again from 2003 to 2007 under former mayor David Kapell. He’s volunteered as a planning board member since May 2012.

A former Air Force reserve chaplain, a post he held for 33 years, he was previously active with Community Action Southold Town.

Mr. Burns’ seat is not the only vacancy the village is facing.

According to Mayor George Hubbard Jr., there will be two vacancies on the Planning Board, one on the Zoning Board of Appeals and two on the Historic Preservation Commission.

In the recent past, the Planning Board has struggled to maintain membership and attendance.

Mr. Burns said attendance was an issue two or three years ago; he’d arrive for a meeting at the firehouse and only two members would be present.

“That was really a rough period for people who wanted to get something done,” he said.

Despite two absences from last week’s meeting, Mr. Burns said attendance has improved and that, with the help of village administrator Paul Pallas, meetings are operating more smoothly.

But Mr. Hubbard said it’s still difficult to get people to join — and stay on — the Planning Board.

“It takes a lot of time and people have to be really interested in it,” the mayor said. “It’s just hard getting people who have the time. They meet at 4 o’clock, so it’s hard in the middle of the workday. I’m going to look around and see what we can find.”

Mr. Hubbard and the Village Board are tasked with finding five-year appointees to replace both Mr. Burns and another member, who had asked not to be identified.

The Village Board will hold its annual organizational meeting Thursday, during which the vacant positions could be filled.

“Normally, we had one person on each of the boards reappointed, but now we have a couple of vacancies at the same time,” Mr. Hubbard said. “It makes it hard. Hopefully, some people will step up and be interested in joining the boards.”

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips agreed that there have been issues with Planning Board attendance in the past.

“The Planning Board is an important function of the Village of Greenport in that it’s the first opportunity for … community members to present their proposals. When there aren’t enough active members, it’s disheartening to the community,” she said.

Under current policy, Mr. Burns said, at least three members must be present to move forward on any decision put before the board. However, because current chairwoman Mary Given works alongside a contractor on many local projects, he said, she often has to recuse herself. In combination with the absences, he said, the Planning Board has been unable to move forward on certain applications.

Ms. Given, in response to the statement by Mr. Burns, said that she has only recused herself on two projects, both of which have been on the Planning Board agenda recently. She said her employer works as a general contractor on those projects.

Mr. Burns, who served as pastor at Southold United Methodist church until the 1980s, said he has felt obligated to remain until his term is completed.

“I’m supposed to be, I volunteered, and if I can’t be here for a period of time, then I should quit,” he said.

At Thursday’s meeting, board members will also appoint a replacement for 10-year Zoning Board of Appeals member Ellen Neff. New volunteers are also sought to replace Historic Preservation Commission members Caroline Waloski and Susan Wetsel, who have indicated they will leave their positions, the mayor said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with additional comment from Mary Given.

Photo caption: Ben Burns has volunteered as a planning board member since May 2012. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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