When Southampton Town residents took to town hall Tuesday night to weigh in on the updated Bridgehampton Gateway proposal, the dimensions of the project had changed slightly from the four public hearings already held on the project.
The amount of commercial space proposed at the site across Montauk Highway from Bridgehampton Commons had shrunk by 10 percent. The number of affordable housing units proposed there had shrunk by one third — from 30 units to 20 units. And the number of market rate housing units had been halved, from eight to four.
But many who came to the May 3 public hearing before the Southampton Town Board on a proposed Planned Development District for the project said that affordable housing in Southampton Town is a top priority. This was a stark contrast to some earlier public hearings, where many people spoke out against the project.
“I’ve heard different arguments and presentations. I’m not saying that anyone is disingenuous but the easy way out is to say I’m just as concerned about affordable housing as anyone, but this isn’t the project,” said Louis Myrick, who represents a group called “Current,” dedicated to positive change. “If not here, where? If not now, when? Right now people are hurting. People need homes. People are homeless. People are leaving the town that they grew up in that they love.”
Pamela Greinke, who moved to Southampton 22 years ago, said her family became homeless one year ago, after the house she’d been living in in Southampton Village was sold.
“My daughter and I stayed with a friend, and my son is staying with various friends,” she said. “Since the end of last summer, I haven’t been able to find a place I can afford.”
Christiana McPherson, a social worker who said she’d lived in Southampton Town her whole life, said the one bedroom cottage where she lives costs 70 percent of her income from one full-time job and two part-time jobs.
“I think it’s a disgrace to our community,” she said, choking up. “My generation won’t be able to live here without help from somewhere.”
But some who oppose the project say it is just a shopping center disguised as affordable housing.
“You’re in effect creating an alternative second village of Bridgehampton,” said Fred Havemeyer. “What is the impact of this very large commercial center? This town, under [former supervisor] Anna Throne-Holst, made a terrible mistake in pushing PDDs the way they did.”
The project as currently proposed would include 80,000 square feet of retail space, 27,000 of which would likely be a gym and 15,000 of which would be dedicated to “local affordable retail.” The new design also calls for a community green and walking paths to nearby Kellis Pond.
But it’s the health of Kellis Pond that worried many environmentalists in attendance, who pointed out that the direction of groundwater flow runs straight from the site to the pond, and that even if the water used on site was treated in an advanced sewage treatment plant, the volume — at 20,000 to 25,000 gallons per day — would have an impact on the pond.
“Do you want clean water and a healthy environment, or affordable housing?” asked Peconic Baykeeper Executive Director Dan Gulizio. “As soon as you start the community benefit analysis, you always get this horse trading.”
Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca agreed.
“The relationship between the town board and developers on PDDs is murky,” he said. “The community has to trust that what you do up there is done with a level of objectivity. The Planned Development District makes that a very, very difficult thing.”
Architect Bill Chaleff said he believes the problems in Southampton are caused by the way development has historically been done there, not because of PDDs.
“Sixty-five percent of the housing stock is second homes,” he said. “It’s not a balanced community. It’s not a healthy community. PDDs are the only tool in our toolbox to modify existing zoning, which has given us all this traffic. The problem was never one of density and development. The problem is the form of development.”
Bonnie Verbitsky, who started a group called Bridgehampton Action Now that circulated a change.org petition three months ago opposing the project, threatened that Bridgehampton may secede from Southampton, “as Sagaponack did,” if the town decides to go forward with the PDD.
“We do need affordable housing, but not as an excuse to build a mall,” she said.
Carol Konner, who owns the property, said if this project isn’t approved, she will develop her property under existing zoning, which allows her to build 90,000 square feet of retail space with two residential estate lots on the south side of the property.
“It’s my property. I own it,” she said. “Some of the adversaries didn’t come out until five months ago, and we’ve been in the process for three years.”
Ms. Konner added that she’d be willing to pay to treat wastewater from neighboring properties to her new sewage treatment plant free of charge if her neighbors pay the hook-up fee.
“If they’re as serious about cleaning up Kellis Pond as I am, they should put their money where their mouth is,” she said.
Bridgehampton paramedic Philip Cammann said he hopes the project is approved so that the next generation of EMTs, firefighters, teachers and social workers can live in Bridgehampton.
“Carol has done her due diligence,” he said. “Last fall, the CAC supported her most recent site plan until the newly formed group BAN decided to come forward and object to the plan.”
Terry Cohen, a single mother who’s lived in Water Mill for 16 years and works in Bridgehampton, said she likes the proposal.
“I like the idea of bringing my kids and grandkids to a safe area where we can walk around, and go down to Kellis Pond,” she said. “This is really inviting for me.”
Julie Burmeister said that, while the property does seem small for all the uses planned there, she doesn’t want to see the number of affordable housing units reduced.
“The affordable housing has been slashed,” she said. “My feeling is that if the developer really wants to negotiate with the community, what they need to negotiate on is the affordable housing.”
Bonnie Cannon, who chairs the town’s Housing Authority and serves as the commissioner of the Suffolk County Commission on Human Rights, said she’d like to do a study on all the places in Southampton that critics have said are “not the right place” for affordable housing.
“If we took all the places where we said ‘not here,’ what would we have left?” she asked. “There would be nothing left.”
“You guys have to be the breakers of the change and do this right,” she added. “We’ve been down this path for many, many years. The time is now. We need to look at this project. Raise that 20 back to the number it was. Everyone on both sides says affordable housing is what we need. Leave that alone. Stand up and do what you know is right.”
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said her point about affordable housing “was not missed. I promise.”
After three hours of testimony, the public hearing was adjourned to May 24 at 6 p.m.