by New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele
Since the 1950’s every local government on the East End has had a Comprehensive Plan. It is often done in concert with the local zoning ordinance, but its community role is much larger than providing the rationale basis for zoning. Typically, the Comprehensive Plan is updated about every five to ten years to reflect changing conditions in the community The South Fork has seen such dramatic growth in the past decade that the update of the Comprehensive Plan is crucial to insure the orderly development of the region. East Hampton completed its most recent update several years ago after a long and protracted public process.
A good Comprehensive Plan always centers on land use. The way that private land is used is a major factor contributing to community character. In East Hampton, land use goals have centered on protecting rural character, preserving open space and natural resources, protecting are small historic village centers, and providing for the economic needs of the community.
However, a good plan does much more than consider land use. A good Comprehensive Plan considers all the needs of the community most notably infrastructure such as parks and recreation, roads and highways, schools, fire houses, hospitals, mass transit, water mains, and sewers. It also looks at the community demographics to consider social needs. For example affordable housing, health care, senior needs, youth services are all part of the plan.
Why is this plan so important? First and foremost, it provides the vision for a community’s future. How do we view ourselves and where are we going. It outlines our goals for our community and provides the means by which to get there. It insures that growth is balanced and orderly and the things that make our community special are protected.
Second, the Comprehensive Plan provides the legal underpinning for the decisions that are made by our local government. When our town enacts a zoning regulation, there has to be a rational basis for that policy. The Comprehensive Plan provides that rational basis.
For example, in East Hampton, the protection of drinking water sources and open spaces were important goals for the Town Comprehensive Plan. Hither Woods in Montauk was the area of deepest groundwater recharge and the largest single expanse of open space in the entire town. The result of comprehensive planning process was a recommendation that this area had the highest priority for protection. As a result, the area was zone for five acre residential and was ultimately targeted for total preservation.
Finally, the Town Comprehensive Plan is the guidebook for our town officials when making decisions. New issues and problems arise all the time. The Comprehensive Plan provides our officials with the framework for making good decisions.
The adoption of a Comprehensive Plan is important for any town. Just as important is paying heed to it when it is time to making the key decisions that effect the future of our community.