With the addition of two new Village of Southampton trustees, Gina Arresta and Joseph McLoughlin, in September, Mayor Jesse Warren and the village board have experienced a considerable boost in productivity and speed. Warren discusses the shift, his top Southampton projects and his goals for 2021 and beyond.
What effect have the new Southampton village trustees had on the board and the legislative process in recent months?
They’ve had a transformative effect! In our first board meeting that we had at the end of September, just a few months ago, we were finally able to get our appointments through. So for 14 months, the former board blocked all mayoral appointments—they blocked the appointment of an administrator, treasurer, clerk and even my assistant.
We were now also able to hire a part-time accountant to help us with our budget and help us implement Questica…which is the program we need in order to create an open data portal.
The budget is the legislative agenda, and if the funds are not appropriate in the budget for a specific legislative agenda, then you obviously can’t accomplish that goal.
It is what it is, that it’s been almost two-thirds into the first term where we finally get a budget that we actually would like to work off of. When I took office, we were working off the prior mayor’s budget, and I was in the minority of the board in the first half of the first term.
What steps are you taking toward actualizing the master plan for Southampton village?
The goal is to try to envision or reimagine what the village will look like. So ultimately, you’ve got Main Street, which is quite nice. You’ve got Jobs Lane, which is kind of falling behind a little bit. And you’ve got Nugent Street and Windmill Lane, which typically are under-utilized. I call them ‘pedestrian hostile,’ and they really should be redesigned to make them more walkable, more bikeable, more green.
Nugent Street should really be a restaurant row, which would be a street with businesses and potentially some housing there. Windmill Lane kind of just falls off. You don’t really go walk on Windmill Lane anymore; there’s a restaurant or two but mostly naked storefronts.
Even though the sewers are at least three to five years out, [the redesign] goes hand-in-hand with a sewer district.
Now, unfortunately for us, we had a designated spot for our sewer, but we moved the ambulance barn to that location. So when I met with the county and Peter Scully, they were a bit surprised that, at that time in 2015, the village would basically decide to move a building to the one spot where a sewer could be. So now we have to either find a new spot for a sewer or connect it to the hospital and work with them as a partner. Ultimately, the sewer is a top priority, because once you have a sewer district and better water treatment, you can do things like more restaurants, more theaters, more housing options in our downtown, so the re-thinking of the downtown also goes hand-in-hand with a sewer district, but we’re hoping to move that along and have a map and plan so we can start getting to work and getting funding.
On the topic of Southampton village water plans, how go the efforts to clean up Lake Agawam?
We want to continue to push the clean water agenda, working both on Lake Agawam as well as some of the other polluted water bodies in the village, such as Old Town Pond, and we’re continuing to work with the Lake Agawam Conservancy, which is an organization that I helped start.
We’ve raised a lot of money there, and we’ve done some projects like the bioswale on the south side of the lake and installing a telemetric buoy. We were recently awarded a [Community Preservation Fund] grant to do a study for a permeable reactive barrier, which is basically a fancy way to describe wood chips that are embedded into the ground to basically stop the flow of a nutrient-rich aquifer into the lake. We’ve also harvested lily pads, which break down into additional nutrients for harmful algae blooms. We actually saw a slight decrease in the density of the algae blooms this year, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done.
And then we were also awarded a CPF grant from the Town to do a bioswale at Old Town Pond.
Now, the dredging is a massive undertaking—it’s expensive, it requires a lot of space and it has been talked about for decades now in the village, but it is time to actually do that. But the big project we have planned is in collaboration with the [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation], and this April, approximately, we’re going to be doing a pilot program where we’ll be applying two coats of hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down into water, coupled with a micro-sonic technology device that shoots micro-sonic waves into the lake. So the goal with this project is simply just to disrupt the harmful algae blooms.
Thanks to our new board, we also funded phase one of a plan to install what’s called a constructed wetland system, and what that does is treat the surface water and the groundwater so that it removes some of those nutrients. We’re not addressing the source—which it comes from the septic systems, pesticides, fertilizers and runoff—but this, at least, treats the problem at the source.
What’s one proposed Southampton village legislation that you’re excited about?
We had a public hearing for a legislation that hopefully will allow for more workforce housing or housing options for year-round residents who live in the village. What the proposed legislation does is allow anyone who has an accessory apartment or accessory structure in that unit—so that could be a side portion of a house, but it has to look and feel like a multi-family house and have off-street parking—but if you have a finished legal basement or if you have a separate entrance with a separate bedroom or separate living area, you can now legally turn that, by applying to the [zoning board of appeals], into a legal accessory structure that you can rent.
So the purpose of that is to increase the inventory and supply of smaller apartment units, so that if you’re looking for somewhere that’s more affordable to live, maybe that’s an option, or if you’re a senior who wants the age in place, you could rent a portion of your home legally, so that you can pay some of your bills.
To learn more about the Village of Southampton, visit southamptonvillage.org.