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Graboski And Nuzzi Cast Dissenting Votes On Southampton’s Green Code

Originally Posted: September 11, 2008

Andrea Aurichio

Councilwoman Nancy Graboski urges town board members to slow down and give the Green Code more thought while Supervisor Linda Kabot and Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst press for passage with an October 1, enactment date. Photos by Andrea Aurichio

Southampton - The town's attempt to go green has some members of the community seeing red, including town board members Nancy Graboski and Chris Nuzzi who cast the two dissenting votes this week as the town adopted a Green Building code by a vote of three to two. The code mandates the construction of energy efficient homes and requires homeowners to use solar energy to heat their swimming pools.

While Supervisor Linda Kabot and Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who sponsored the legislation along with Councilwoman Nancy Graboski heralded the law as groundbreaking noting the town's leadership role in keeping with the national trend to save energy, community sentiment was mixed as criticism of the law and the hasty manner in which the town board moved to pass the legislation came under fire once again. Others objected to the governmental intrusion in their private lives that the code seemed to reflect.

George Kazdin, owner of Kazdin Pools, discussed ways to use solar energy
to heat swimming pools, noting the town should seek more participation
from the industry.

Builders, architects, owners of swimming pool companies, solar heating specialists and homeowners turned out in force to express their views at a three-hour public hearing held prior to the vote on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 9. The law is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1, while enforcement of certain portions of the statute may be delayed until Jan. 1, 2009, pending the outcome of the next town board meeting on Sept. 23, when additional hearings will be held.

The code, formulated by the Town's Chief Building Inspector, along with members of the town's recently formed Green Committee, also referred to as the Committee for a Sustainable Southampton, mandates the construction of energy efficient homes that must be built to comply with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA's) New York Energy Star program.

The energy efficiency of all homes constructed after Oct. 1 will be rated according to a HERS factor or Home Energy Rating System that will increase in direct proportion to the size of the house.

According to Throne-Holst, the sliding scale in which the energy efficiency rating is directly tied to the square footage, and subsequent building costs involved, places the burden for excessive energy consumption on the town's wealthiest citizens while posing no hardship to the construction of affordable housing or homes under 6,500 square feet that must be built to lower, easily attainable HERS ratings.

"We are trying to put the burden on the big guy," Throne-Holst said as she explained the code.

The sliding scale used in Southampton's new code is one of the differentiating factors setting this code apart from others being enacted around the country and on Long Island. Nationwide, 14 states have enacted Green Codes, while eight of the 13 towns on Long Island have also gone green.

Landmark Legislation?
Proponents of the Green movement maintain all eyes are on Southampton as the town moves forward with the law despite objections from many segments of the community. The community response indicates strong support for the green movement and the concept of energy conservation but reflects an intense disagreement with the way the code is being written and the haste with which the town has moved to implement its new laws.

"This code is first and foremost a response to the energy crisis, the climate change crisis and the economic crisis we are faced with. We need to respond. The role of the government is to protect and legislate for the public good. The Supervisor wants us to lead the way," Throne-Holst said concluding, "make no mistake about that."

Chief Town Building Inspector Michael Benincasa addresses the standing room only crowd as builders, architects and residents express their views on energy conservation.

Supervisor Kabot noted the nation's need to conserve energy as well. "This country needs to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern countries for our oil," Kabot said. "The nation's eyes are watching us as we enact this cutting edge legislation."

Councilwoman Graboski took a different tack and gathered a round of applause from the audience in violation of the no clapping, no booing rule enforced by Supervisor Kabot at town board meetings.

Architect Bill Chaleff advocated implementation of the Green Code by
Oct. 1, noting architects have had to follow building codes since the
14th century.

"I am firmly committed to energy reduction," Graboski said. "To me this is not about being first or getting a headline. It is about getting a good law. As far as I am concerned the law was rushed through. Shame on me for voting for it the first time," Graboski said, referring to the July 22 passage of an earlier version of the Green Code that was modified several times before new legislation was enacted on Sept. 9. Some sections of the code were modified, re-written or "tweaked' in the parlance of the town board more than 13 times before a new draft was formulated.

Feasibility Of Implementation Questioned
Among the issues of concern are the feasibility of using solar energy to heat swimming pools as well as the effectiveness and cost of achieving HERS factors of 95 or better on homes. Representatives of the building trades noted their involvement in high end projects where homeowners were voluntarily moving towards home construction with HERS factors of 97. The HERS factors are achieved by the use of design and construction that conserves energy, such as improved insulation, windows and doors.

"A HERS rating of 95 is no problem," builder Paul Welch said, noting a house with a HERS rating of 95 could see an energy use reduction of as much as 97 percent a year. Builder Stanley Dalene noted the town's new code and the mandated HERS ratings could jeopardize builder's incentives amounting to $10,000 in some cases. Dalene noted he is also working on a home construction project with a HERS factor of 95 - but added, "it's going to take us a few years to get it right."

Noted East End architect Bill Chaleff supported the code as proposed and pushed for its implementation. "Architects have been subject to building codes since the 14th century B.C.," Chaleff said. "Everything proposed is imminently doable."

"Be brave," Gordon Hare said as he encouraged the board to enact the code. "I can't believe people are so worried about the temperature of their swimming pools with everything else that is going on in the world."

Water Mill resident Peter Bergenthal noted he favored energy conservation but did not think it should be legislated. "For the existing homeowner this is nothing more than a tax," Bergenthal said. "I spent $300,000 for landscaping. Why should I have to look at a God-awful solar heating system."

Supervisor Kabot, Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst and Councilman Chris Nuzzi weigh pros and cons. Nuzzi cast one of the two votes against the bill.

The code allows fossil fuel and electric heaters to be used as back-up systems. Existing heating systems may remain in use, until they need to be repaired. In which case, the homeowner is given a 60-day grace period to purchase and install a solar heating system. Opponents of the code noted the double expense the homeowner is subjected to - first to temporarily repair a heating system to get through the summer - then to install the solar heating system to comply with the law.

Benincasa explains the code to the pubic.

Solar covers must also be used to control temperatures in swimming pools according to the new code. The use of solar covers will also be re-instated in the New York State code in 2009 after having been previously omitted.

"Covers are great," Kevin Worth, president of Sun Shine Solar said. "They save a lot of the heat you would lose overnight. We beg people to use solar covers," Worth said, "and they won't do it. You are never going to be able to enforce this."

Homeowner Steve Lopes owns a pool that he heats one day a year by his own calculation. "My pool stays comfortable by itself," Lopes said." I think this law sets a bad precedent in terms of intrusiveness. What's next? Are you going to tell us what kind of car to drive and what kind of food to eat?

The show stopper however was Marc Jarrett. Jarrett, no stranger to the green movement or the concept of sustainability said in an impassioned speech, "Give me liberty or give me death. Remember that? If you said it today, they would laugh you into the next county. The government can make laws, but they can't make any laws they want. This law is a brazen intrusion into the lives of free men. You have knee-jerked your way along to writing unconstitutional laws that deprive us of our liberty at the point of a gun. You are turning good men into criminals. Good government governs less," Jarrett said.

In the meantime, the town will go back to the boards and "tweak" its new laws once again. "We have been hearing complaints for weeks that the new code puts too much power into the hands of the building inspector," Supervisor Kabot said, "So we are considering an amendment to the code that would establish a three member review board."

The review board, if created, would review Chief Building Inspector Michael Benicasa's rulings regarding the installation of solar heating units at sites that may not be conducive to the alternative energy source.

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