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The candidates for Southold Town supervisor faced off in a debate at Peconic Landing Thursday night.
Unlike their Town Board counterparts, the supervisor candidates mostly avoided personal attacks during the roughly hour-long debate. Instead, Democratic candidate Greg Doroski criticized the current administration, led by incumbent Republican Scott Russell, for “dragging their feet” when it comes to managing change.
Mr. Russell responded by defending his four-term record and noting that leadership is defined by how unexpected challenges are met.
The debate, sponsored by The Suffolk Times and moderated by editors Steve Wick and Joe Werkmeister, focused on several issues including water quality, housing and economic development in the wake of a moratorium that was recently extended in Mattituck.
Read below for the candidate’s responses to each question of the debate in their own words. The answers have been condensed.
Plans were recently submitted for a major recreational facility in Peconic after an attempt to build one in Mattituck failed. How has the board worked with the developers?
Scott Russell: We acquired 10 acres in Peconic right next to Tasker Park, developed a [zoning] district to permit those uses in an overlay zone, put an RFP out that required an indoor pool and to show us how it’ll benefit residents of Southold Town, because what you don’t want is a facility with membership fees so high that locals are excluded from it. It’s a very good proposal.
Greg Doroski: Our community has needed a pool and recreation facility since I was a kid.
I support the proposal but I have real concerns whether we’re going to be able to bring it to the finish line. There’s going to be some real challenges to make it affordable for community and profitable for developers.
Mr. Doroski, you’ve been critical of how the town’s handled water quality issues. What would you do if elected?
Mr. Doroski: When I look at the wait-and-see attitude for supporting IA systems, I can’t help but shake my head.
When I hear the administration say these systems are unproven, or when they roll out fear tactics that we’re going to slap everyone with a $20,000 bill, it’s just not reality.
Current grant funding is available from the county and state.
Down the road, yes, these systems need to be mandated but we need to start with an incremental approach.
We can do better and it’s up to the Town Board and supervisor to commit to doing that.
Mr. Russell: Road runoff greatly impairs water bodies and the town has made substantial investments. We… install drainage systems. The water is getting cleaner and cleaner because of the commitments we’ve made.
I do not mean to use the idea of a $20,000 invoice as a scare tactic but my opponent said exactly that. Taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for what is a regional problem.
How will you stimulate decent paying jobs that keep younger people here and how does that relate to housing?
Mr. Russell: Google’s not coming here, Amazon’s not coming here. We need to promote small businesses.
The biggest challenge businesses have is housing. I proposed one small change [to the accessory apartment code] that’s completely enforceable. Rather than require primary residence, I made it so it was at the exclusive use of the owner so the only person who could live there can be the owner. The accessory apartment would have to be occupied by a year-round resident. Why build new when you have structures already?
Mr. Doroski: There’s uncertainty. There’s been this push in wine industry to clarify the differences between agriculture, production and tasting rooms. Breweries are in the same position.
These are real, good paying jobs in our community and we need a code that reflects current realities.
It’s hard to find staff out here. No matter how good the job is, if there’s not a place to live that you can afford, it’s not going to attract you here.
Mr. Doroski has been critical of the short-term rental law and has said businesses like Airbnbs have innovated in our territory. Are changes to the law needed?
Mr. Doroski: It’s not as effective as it needs to be…it’s burdensome to enforce.
There’s so many short-term rentals listed on these websites. A simple solution is to require all listings to list their permit number.
Mr. Russell: We made it clear when we adopted [the short-term rental code] that no one should view it as a panacea. The rental code which went into effect in August, we believe will make the first code much more enforceable.
We’ve narrowed the pool…I think you’ll see substantial change by next spring.
What’s your vision for farmland?
Mr. Russell: What should be permitted is stuff I’ve already supported, which is processing on farms.
In the future, I do see smaller farms. I support changes to code which would allow people who have sold development rights to subdivide their land.
In the old days you couldn’t do that, and the problem with that is that’s how you get the Solovievs and the only people who can afford to buy [the land.]
Mr. Doroski: This agricultural processing update had languished for years and then finally at the end, which happens to be at election time, we rush things along and [the Town Board] didn’t consult the water conservation committee.
The code update to allow aquaculturists to sell oysters at roadside stands…how does a simple update take six years? For me it’s a leadership issue.
My vision for our community, agriculture and aquaculture is core to that. The people in these industries need a government that supports them.
What’s your stance on the moratorium and eminent domain proceeding in Mattituck?
Mr. Russell: Moratoriums are not always the most pleasant thing but sometimes need to take a snapshot in time and make sure that picture doesn’t change so that you can figure out what the new picture is going to look like.
With regard to the parcel, my opponent recently ran an ad that said “no action…” over and over again. [The property] wasn’t for sale. We tried, we reached out to the owners over the years; there was no interest in selling.
Then we partnered with the county and we were at the table negotiating but they chose to sell to another party. We tried working with the new party but it was impossible, so we took the bold step of authorizing the attorney to pursue an eminent domain proceeding.
Sometimes you need to take bold action.
Mr. Doroski: We have a 14-year incumbent that says he needs a moratorium to stop time. What happened during the past 14 years that we couldn’t figure this thing out?
This parcel was called out for preservation in 2005. Why did we wait to take serious action until the Mattituck Laurel Civic Association really started advocating for this issue?
Without a comprehensive plan, we’re left with this ad-hoc approach where we’re reacting.
Mr. Doroski: ‘We can do better.’ While that may seem like an empty political phrase, I really do believe it. We need some new perspective and I think 14 years of any administration is enough. Experience is important but can also breed myopia.
They had their chance to solve these problems. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.
Mr. Russell: Either we’re moving too fast or we’re languishing [according to the Democrats].
The town has been acting. We’re not sitting around every two weeks knitting sweaters.
We are actively making changes to the code on a regular basis in a lot of instances to preempt future challenges.
I didn’t declare myself tsar 14 years ago. I came before you in every election and asked you to show faith and trust in me to carry this town and you’ve showed me that in the past.