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The four candidates for Southold Town Board — incumbent Republicans Jill Doherty and Bill Ruland and Democratic challengers Bob Hanlon and Sarah Nappa — faced off during a Thursday evening debate that, at times, grew tense.
Over the course of two hours, the candidates offered their ideas on the town’s future and how to address issues including water quality, housing, code enforcement and farming.
Both Mr. Ruland and Ms. Doherty took issue with Ms. Nappa’s claim that Town Hall is lacking civility and respect several times throughout the evening.
The debate was moderated by The Suffolk Times editors Steve Wick and Joe Werkmeister and held at Peconic Landing, where residents packed the auditorium to hear the candidates.
Read below for the candidate’s responses to each question of the debate in their own words. The answers have been condensed:
For the incumbents, what have you accomplished during your tenure? For the challengers, what hasn’t been done that you’d like to take on?
Bill Ruland: I started a fleet and fuel management committee to save fuel and manage our fuel supply. We’ve been fortunate to get [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] grants that have allowed us to install electric charging stations at facilities throughout the town and we continue to search for NYSERDA grants for more alternative fuel vehicles to reduce the town’s carbon footprint.
Sarah Nappa: There are many things that have been neglected for a number of years that have now come to a point where we are at crisis.
We need to be expanding the committees within town instead of shrinking them.
We need to be streamlining the processes to opening a small business or farm so we aren’t paving the way for corporate ag and corporations to come in.
We need to be making bigger strides to preserving our environment and making serious steps to solving the affordable housing crisis.
Jill Doherty: We have been updating language in the code and we’ve made many strides for housing to make it easier for developers to make their money but keep it affordable.
We have developed a rental code to have safety first in our community. We’ve built a code department from nothing and I’d like to expand that. [There are] great ideas but we have to look at how it affects the character of our community. I’ve prided myself on being open minded, balanced and looking at the whole picture.
Bob Hanlon: Because I haven’t been on the Town Board doesn’t mean I haven’t accomplished anything. A few years ago, the Metropolitan Regional transport council had a brilliant plan to divert traffic off I-95 and run it through [Route] 25 through Southold.
The civic group rose up, we went to hearings, we stormed the place, lobbied them and within a week it was repealed. It was led by the community groups — we did that.
Right now in Southold, you can build a 22,000 square foot house on a two-acre lot. That’s half the size of the White House. Every other town on the East End has put size limitations on houses. These are things we have to look down the road for, anticipate and try to plan for before it’s a crisis.
How should the town approach implementing innovative alternative wastewater systems?
Mr. Ruland: I’m not willing to raid the Community Preservation Fund for anything other than it’s intended use.
IA systems are not proven. Data from the Department of Health Services show that some of them are not performing the way they were designed. There’s a learning curve there. To ask people to spend money on a learning curve, I’m not sure that’s prudent at this time.
It’s very hard to get changes [from the Department of Health Services] but they are now considering meaningful changes to [the sanitary code.]
If that dialogue continues I do believe we will make progress.
Ms. Nappa: People get very nervous about what this is going to cost, but we are going to have to do this by the county’s law by 2050.
It’s a detriment that we were the second to last town to join the Climate Smart community program. This is a case where instead of being second to last, we should be a leader. We should look into mandating these systems on all new construction and look at the areas of our coastline that are the worst offenders and start targeting those.
We have septic systems that literally are washing in and out with the tide. It’s horrendous what it’s doing to our bays.
Ms. Doherty: IA systems are great but I am not ready to mandate it for every one of you.
Yes, there is money coming down from the federal and county but there are other expenses for the homeowners that is not really known until you get into it.
Currently, the trustees have the authority to mandate IA system in certain areas. The town is hosting a meeting with county officials to talk about the grants on Nov. 14. We need to educate people more and like anything new, you need to give it a few years.
Mr. Hanlon: We’re not talking about mandating everybody right now, but we are talking about mandating for new construction. If you’re spending $500,000 to build a new house in this town, $15,000 is not going to change your life in the slightest.[The ZBA and Trustees] have implemented IA systems on a case by case basis, but the [Town Board] can’t take credit for what they do.
What’s your stance on the building moratorium in Mattituck and eminent domain proceeding?
Mr. Ruland: The moratorium covers the entire length from Bay to Pike street. There are [other] parcels there with zoning attached that, at the completion of the comprehensive plan, may prompt discussions of if these parcels have the right zoning for the future.
We want to do it right.
Ms. Nappa: They use moratoriums as band-aids. [The parcel] has been available for sale twice during this administration and they have done nothing about it.
They sit and they wait and they watch and hope that things won’t change around them. If we aren’t planning … we’re going to keep running into these problems.
Ms. Doherty: We feel that [the proposal] would change the character of the community.
Sometimes you have to make these difficult decisions. The decision wasn’t taken lightly. We’re still making an effort and reaching out to the landowners of that corner lot.
Mr. Hanlon: When we lean on moratoriums and eminent domain, we put ourselves in a situation where we’re prone to litigation.
We’ve been dealing with this for more than a decade. The town just pushed it down the road. We waited until we actually faced a crisis and that’s a problem we’re constantly dealing with here.
How can the town address the need for affordable housing?
Mr. Ruland: Private enterprise is the key to this.
The problem in hamlet centers is apartments can’t meet the sewage requirements from the department of health services. Until we have a way to deal with the septic flow, it’s not going to happen.
We need to look at ways to accomplish this but it has to be the private-public partnership.
Ms. Nappa: While enrollment in our schools keeps going down, our current supervisor jokes that young people are Southold’s greatest export.
We do need to get more rentals, but rentals keep poor people poor. We need to be looking into repurposing existing buildings and condo communities that are affordable in perpetuity to give young people a chance to get on the ladder.
Ms. Doherty: Land preservation helps with affordable housing. For every acre we preserve, we have sanitary credits that can be transferred to a hamlet. The problem is, the health department needs to approve that.
I’m a single mom, I rent my house and have three jobs — most people have to do that here. But it’s the community we love and we do what we can.
The town should not be using taxpayer money to buy land and do their own affordable housing.
Mr. Hanlon: We have to find creative ways to go to builders and go, ‘Come on guys, we can figure something out here.’
Vineyard View will help a lot, but that’s 50 units. We still have hundreds of people who want to live here. People who work in this community and travel long distances to get here. Why can’t they get an apartment nearby?
How can the short term rental law be better enforced? Does that code need to be amended?
Mr. Ruland: Today we have 2.5 code enforcement people. Going forward, the budget may produce another full time code enforcement officer.
We continue to have summonses issued for people violating the code.
There’s due process. Several were recently adjudicated in Justice Court that resulted in a fine. We’re slowly moving in the direction where we’re going to be able to make our code stick.
Ms. Nappa: Why pass code we know we can’t enforce?
We need to go back to the drawing board and look at other communities to see what they’re doing on the short-term rental issue.
Ms. Doherty: Since we passed our rental code, we’re getting an idea of what’s actually out there.
People are coming in, applying for their rental permit, the inspection is happening, They’re bringing their apartment or house up to safety standards. That’s a good thing.
I can sleep better at night knowing the houses are safe.
Mr. Hanlon: I give credit to the Town Board for passing the rental code, it’s a step in the right direction. But it’s massively full of holes.
It has no provisions to deal with subletting or renting a room rather than entire apartment.
Please speak about the future of farming in Southold. Is there a place for breweries and distilleries to open on farmland?
Ms. Nappa: My husband and I have a small, three-acre homestead. We’re trying to leave the land better than we found it.
We need to be looking to bring in smaller, diversified farms so we aren’t paving the way for corporate ag to come in.
This administration has spent so much time pitting this community against the wine industry in order to deflect from their inaction.
For 10 years we’ve been asking for code definitions for our business. There’s three aspects: growing in the vineyard, production in the winery and sale in the tasting room. Right now, those three are under one umbrella.
We should be allowed to have breweries on farmland because we’re talking about agricultural production. That’s the future of farming in Southold — it doesn’t matter if it’s grape, vegetable or animal agriculture. There are full time living wage jobs in farming.
Mr. Ruland: [Ms. Nappa] did not live post-World War II and what it did on our farming community. She did not experience 1985 and what it did to this community, which was totally farm based.
There is a place for the new farmer, there’s no question about that.
Young farmers face challenges that, yes, we did not face, but we faced our own.
But farmers, no matter who they are, are resilient.
As far as drinking establishments on residential and agricultural property, at this time i just can’t support that.
We’ve had enough problems with certain establishments.
Ms. Nappa: I appreciate the past and everything these farmers have done. [Mr. Ruland is] correct. Farmers are resilient, smart, hard working and care about the environment…we need to be looking to the future and not looking at the past all the time. Who is the next generation that’s going to be farming this land?
Ms. Doherty: I don’t think we need a bar in every residential neighborhood. I don’t see how that part of it really lends itself to preserving agriculture.
The Town Board just recently changed the law to allow on-farm processing and oyster farmers to sell their product. We work well with the agricultural advisory committee to craft code.
Mr. Hanlon: For the past 6 years, ag advisory has had a half dozen issues they’ve been trying to get the town to pay attention to. It’s dragged on and on and nothing happened in past 3 months all of a sudden we have on-farm processing and roadside oyster stands. The farmers have been waiting.
We need these small farms.
There are complicated issues as far as wineries and breweries. I don’t know the answer. That’s something we do need to look at the consequences for.
Mr. Ruland: I’m someone who has lived here my entire life with roots that go deep.
I’m running because I care about the community I live in and the people that live there.
All that we’ve talked about tonight, there’s agreement and disagreement. This is the world that we live in.
I take exception to one thing, which is Ms. Nappa’s remark aimed at me that said I don’t treat people with dignity and respect…It appears my opponent doesn’t know me.
It’s been an honor and privilege to serve and I look forward to you continuing to support me.
Ms. Nappa: I’ve never said that [Mr. Ruland] has treated anyone disrespectfully, but there’s an overwhelming feeling at town hall that people are not being treated with respect, listened to, or treated with empathy.
Right now, town hall operates with a top-down approach. I will bring in the right people to have conversations about adopting new code and how we should be addressing the issues that arise in our community.
That is how real leadership approaches the future. You’ll see a community that feels that town hall is on their side and has their best intentions at heart.
I respectfully ask for your vote.
Ms. Doherty: My opponent just said we treat people disrespectfully. I’m not that person. She said she wants to bring in the right people. Do you mean you’re going to turn over the workforce? Are you going to tell everyone on the committees that they’re no longer needed? I don’t know what your vision is.
I grew up out here learning what the community is. I was taught to treat everybody with respect, listen, and work together.
I feel I’ve grown into this position and I can learn along the way. I want to continue working on water quality and housing issues…and I look forward to your continued support.
Mr. Hanlon: What do we want as a community? Our rural character, unique neighborhoods, small farms, our waters, seasonal and year round businesses. Those are the things we value in the community.
What do we want to avoid? The loss of neighborhoods, mcmansions replacing modest housing, traffic that’s uncontrolled, businesses that are struggling…those are the things we have to create policy for.
This is the job that I want. I’m never going to run for another office, I have no other business or interests. I thought I was going to sit back and relax but I couldn’t. This is too important. Please vote for me.