Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has found the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee’s revised petition to be sufficient, and a hamlet-wide referendum will be held on incorporating.
The only thing amended from the initial petition was the list of regular inhabitants, which was originally found to have 34 deceased members. All other requirements had previously been satisfied. Schneiderman’s decision can be challenged by the objectors, which could keep the matter tied up in court for months. But if it’s not challenged, a public vote will happen in 40 days.
The proposed village includes the East Quogue School District and the Northern Fire District. This meets the legal requirements for boundary lines with the Village of Quogue to the west, the Flanders/Riverhead School District to the north, and the Hampton Bays School District to the east. Dune Road and the Atlantic Ocean is the southern boundary. Suffolk County voter registration and Southampton Tax Map data shows 3428 people are regular inhabitants, which means at least 692 signatures were needed on the petition. With more than 780 signatures, this was also met.
The East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee, a 15-member group, led by co-chairs Dave Celi and Karen Kooi, began working together in November 2017, trying to figure out a way to be heard, but found it difficult when there’s no East Quogue representation on the town board, and the hamlet only makes up eight percent of the town’s voting population.
“I am very excited that democracy is at work, and we will have an opportunity to bring the village incorporation to a vote,” Celi said.”
“We’ve stood up at many meetings and said ‘this is how we feel,’ and no one’s ever had the ability to ascertain what we wanted,” he said previously. “We feel we have no voice. We feel Southampton Town is not listening. It’s time East Quogue takes its future into its own hands.”
While some may say the rejection of The Hills planned development district and its replacement with the Lewis Road planned residential development is the motive behind the movement, Kooi said while it may have been a catalyst, there were many other issues, such as the Damascus Road landfill contamination that left over 40 homes without drinking water, that have left community members feeling overlooked.
“The town was busy finger-pointing over who should take responsibility,” Kooi said in a previous interview. “And the East Quogue Village is not going to have any say in whether the golf course gets built, whether the village was formed tomorrow or not. The plan is moving forward, and East Quogue has lost all these great community benefits.”
The original petition was submitted April 3, with the amended one received by Schneiderman July 1. After a final public hearing on the sufficiency of the petition August 14, and all testimony and objections taken into consideration, Schneiderman said this time it passed the test.
“When I denied it last time I filled in precisely what the technical flaws were — the list of regular inhabitants was inaccurate — and I needed to see a good-faith effort that they tried to give me a list that was accurate,” Schneiderman said, pointing to two recent deaths of residents who’d made their way onto the new list. “It looked that way. I wasn’t looking for a perfect list, just a reasonable effort.”
“I believe village law was written to allow home rule, to give people an opportunity to decide their fate as a community,” Schneiderman added. “Not to make it impossible to ever incorporate as a village.”
The committee’s main objective was coming up with a thin layer of government at the lowest cost possible. There will be a mayor, trustees, and a local architectural review board made up of volunteers. The only paid position, required by law, will be the village clerk. It’s also looking to have its proposed village manage building, planning, zoning, and code enforcement, but rely on the town for police coverage and public works. Kooi said while there have been rumors about wanting to model it after the Village of Quogue, she said the group is actually looking to mirror the Village of Sagaponack, which incorporated in 2005.
“We had booths set up at the post office and local businesses to answer people’s questions, and we tried explaining that we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Kooi said. “Once people understood that, they were eager to sign and eager to learn. We want to protect our community character and the residents here, and we want to do this at the lowest cost possible. Sagaponack has proved it can be done.”
Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Louchheim agreed.
“In the 13 years since our incorporation, Sagaponack Village has demonstrated that a concerned community can successfully assume control over land use and quality-of-life issues while continuing to rely on the Town of Southampton for essential services without any negative financial impact on taxpayers,” he said in a previous statement.
The East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee had hired municipal attorney Peter Bee, of the law firm Bee, Ready, Fischbein, Hatter, and Donovan, LLP, to guide it on what decisions had to be made.
Celi said previously the support had been overwhelming.
“What was amazing about this group of people in their late 30s to late 70s, of all political persuasions, is that even though we have different backgrounds and didn’t know each other before this, we became quick friends and worked very, very hard to come to a decision on how we could make this work,” he said. “The goal is to protect East Quogue, and I think we’re going to achieve that.”
“We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished and so pleased that we’ve got to this point,” Kooi said. “We decided everything from what the logo could possibly look like, to the plans to get the signatures, to a budget. We planned everything. This group pulled it off.”