Another month, another hit in the Botox-ing of East Hampton Village. Coming on October 15, the village board will gather feedback on a proposal that would impose property maintenance standards more in line with a creepy cinematic utopian suburb than a lively, breathing community where people from all walks of life and from all economic backgrounds are welcome.
Let’s start by saying that some of the new measures make sense. Eliminating the stagnant water in which mosquitoes love to lay eggs and eliminating the fast-spreading bamboo are laudable initiatives and obviously in the public interest. Some of the other proposed rules, at first glance, may also seem benign: they call for the removal of “rubbish, debris, paper, dirt, rubbish and rubbish” from private property and prohibit the storage of unregistered vehicles outside. (including automobiles, trucks, trailers and boats). But pause to think: what is “dirt”? A pile of compost? With “insects” on the target list alongside vermin and rodents, can a village dweller be a beekeeper? What happens to the backyard mechanic who just wants to spend his Sunday tinkering with an old vintage truck in peace? If some of that isn’t classism, we’ll eat our trucker hats.
And how do the mayor and his entourage envisage the application of the new rules? Presumably, neighbors will call City Hall to report that Mr. Smith has a rubber dinghy in his backyard. The proposal says the home inspector “or law enforcement officials” will investigate violations. The new “village police officers” – a recently established title, who must not only act as traffic control officers, but be responsible for patrolling the village “on foot or by vehicle, noting violations” national or local law – will they be found walking up aisles and around private spaces with binoculars but without warrants? Big brother, no thanks.
A Hardship Relief Hearing with the Home Inspector might be requested – for example, by backyard mechanics without sufficient indoor garage space, or, say, by a hobbyist who kept a stack of pallets in. wood on hand for a Pinterest planter project – but having to go to an audience is a blatant imposition for someone who does nothing wrong other than a healthy DIY
Multi-family and commercial property owners should keep driveways and parking spaces “dust-free” (whatever it is) and “cleaned regularly”. Does that mean we can take out our forbidden leaf blowers again? Complying might seem easy enough if you have the money, but what if you don’t? Or are you old? Or do you just prefer the old-fashioned look of a grass and dirt driveway? Be careful, shut up Mulford! Your traditional driveway made of crushed shells does not seem dust-free to us.
And what about Rule 225-2 E, which states that owners of properties abutting a street or road must not allow trees (or other plants) “to overhang the property line”? Doesn’t every lane in the village have a leafy canopy made up at least in part of private trees that stretch across the property lines and above the roadway, and isn’t that a beauty thing? Rule 225-3 states that owners must maintain “all parts of the building and accessory structures in an attractive condition and in good repair”. Okay, so what is an “attractive condition”? Do we really want inspectors to make aesthetic decisions? (And, if so, can we report our neighbors in their new postmodernist mansion for crimes against good taste?)
Make no mistake, it’s not just a “matter of taste” as they say in reality TV design contests. It’s not just an explosion in the culture war. It’s downright draconian – and not at all up to our traditional standards of what you can and can’t do on your own private property. East Hampton Village has a history as a farming community, and while the days of farming are obviously long gone, a rural look has always been our ideal. It’s not Seaside, Florida, and we don’t live on “The Truman Show”.