Marc Fasanella, professor of ecological art, architecture and design in the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook Southampton, has started a monthly lecture series for the Hampton Bays Civic Association called “Downtown Hampton Bays: Its Future, Present, and Past.” The Hampton Bays resident is using his platform and career experience to outline a list of plans for the hamlet to tackle its long-standing ecological issues and become more sustainable.
“My lectures are an open discussion, a forum where people in the community can voice their ideas about the Hampton Bays in front of town officials,” Fasanella said.
A long-time Southampton resident and an on-and-off member of the Architecture and Design Forum since 1992, Fasanella said he originally came to the town to teach at the former Southampton College, now Stony Brook Southampton.
“Think globally, act locally,” Fasanella said. “That’s how I’ve been raising my kids for the last 17 years I’ve been here.”
He referred to the Bays as an area with great potential because of the amount of parcels —schools, the post office, the library, movie theaters and the train station—located on Main Street. Historic sites and interactive spaces like the Pine Barrens Nature Preserve and Southampton’s vast waterways are just a short, “bike-worthy” distance away, Fasanella said.
With his background in sustainability studies and his personal history with the town, Fasanella said that the Hampton Bays Civic Association does not have any power per se, but it has been responsible for preserving land and giving people ideas as to what other municipalities are doing to keep their towns sustainable.
Fasanella said he wants to see the hamlet revert back to its fishing and farming roots, and he would like to see the Bays rekindle its getaway-style feel.
Hampton Bays had small farms and many fishermen at the turn of the 20th century, unlike most massive farms on the East End, Fasanella said. In fact, it was originally a huge farmland and has one of the biggest fishing ports to this day. Its fishing history, farming history and beach culture succeeded when people had disposable income, Fasanella claimed.
He spoke about the movement to bring back farming and agriculture and the fact that “the town is bought as per community preservation funds, some of which have buildings on them….People can come in and run a farm on that land.”
Another issue he is tackling is the fact that the “Bays are all toxic on [the] East End because of fertilizers and pesticides.” He said septic tanks are now pushing waste into the waterways.
“We have to stop using septic systems,” he said. “Over the next 50, 100 years, we should have fewer houses that are big and close to the water…fewer bulkheads, [but] we want to have more housing and denser housing right near the train station, far away from the water, near the sewer district.”
He said Southampton must separate the storm water from the septic system, which is just below the ground and pushes septic water towards the bays.
“The thing that scares people is that there’s houses there [on the beach],” he said. “Well, there may not be in 50 years. We have to say ‘You can build another house, but you can’t build it there. We’ll pay you from the community fund.’ This was done during Hurricane Sandy…done every time they want to build highway, bridge, etc. It’s not always going to look the same.”
He emphasized that the public has to start looking at waterways as public parcels. The water’s edges are especially important, according to Fasanella, because there are so many roads that go into water, polluting it with antifreeze, runoff, plastic and so on. He said Southampton must create some sort of “buffer zone between the edge and road.”
“More and more people are commuting to Hampton Bays from the city, from jobs,” Fasanella said. With this density increase of people, the community is faced with pressures of “people living in illegal and substandard rentals, [whereby] pay goes down and prices go up.”
Fasanella also suggested that the hamlet become a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
“In the summer I park my truck and unless I need to go far, barely use my truck,” he said. “Everyone parks their car and walks the entire summer.”
In terms of transit-oriented development, he urged for an increase in bus and train services, co-housing, rentable houses and smaller houses.
“Some of the wealthiest people have these small houses,” he said, referring to the example of the highly demanded summer cottages at Fire Island.
“Another charm is ‘pocket neighborhoods,’” Fasanella said. “Put a couple cottages behind one acre of land (closer to the train station), and you’re not increasing density, just avoiding a situation where people are illegally renting out basements.”
Another issue he spoke about was creating what he calls “equalizable corridors” for coyote, deer and the like. Without these corridors, he explained, the animals become inbred and develop deformities. He stressed that every school should have ecological preserves for ecological study.
“The Hampton Bays is an ideal place for all of this,” Fasanella said. “We have to change the way we create the built environment.”