Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Put a Cap on Density

I was in Miami over the Thanksgiving holiday and made some observations. Miami is a wonderful place for many reasons beside its sunny climate, but Wow, is it dense! I drove through many neighborhoods noticing man styles of architecture (all adjacent to one another – there is no stylistic consistency) but also that there are no yards and all parking is in the front. Zoning codes allow for the maximum coverage on each property across the board. Even the mansions consume their properties. You have to drive at least an hour south or west to find homes that aren’t 10 feet from each other and have real yards.

The Village of Southampton has become increasingly dense since it was settled in 1640. That was the way it all started. The king gave the land which we took from the Indians, then it began to get divided up among the settlers, then given to heirs and sold to newcomers, and so on, continuing to this day. Shouldn’t there be a limit? Shouldn’t there be a point at which we decide it’s full here? Aren’t there even limits to area available for parking and septic systems and energy consumption and other infrastructural components?

Where once there were open views of scattered homes, farmland and animals grazing, there is now street after street of buildings, mature trees and hedges galore. There are very few large properties, few undeveloped lots and not many more to be subdivided. Zoning codes have already changed to allow for dense lot development. A common quarter acre (R-20) property can presently be consumed by between 4300 and 6000 square feet (Section 116-11.2) which easily allows for a large home, a garage, a pool, a pool house, porches, patios, and other accessory structures, leaving no real yard area, parking in the front, and very little space between houses, just like Miami. In my opinion the architectural harmony has already become compromised via less historic and more exploratory and/or generic building projects, properties are clearly being built-out to the maximum allowable code-wise and the codes are overly generous. Just like Miami.

What next? What if zoning codes change again to make more subdivisions possible? It’s not as if the village boundaries will expand (although I would love them to include the Art Village) so that growth can sprawl outwards. The aesthetic stewardship of this Village is on a pointy precipice.
Rather than to allow any further deterioration of the historic fabric, spaciousness and architecture of this village, rather than to give too much freedom to people needing too much to be satisfied, the time has come to put a cap on density. And for all of you laughing that this is a ridiculous idea, putting a cap on density will only lead to increased property values, tourism revenue and interest in vacationing and living here. The more ardently we preserve the special character of our village, the longer it will remain beloved and desirable………………and protected.
There is a general belief that the places people love the most are the quickest to be ruined. I don’t want that to be the case here.

Historic photos courtesy The Southampton Historical Museum and Eric Woodward.

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