With outcry over the lack of cleanliness, produce and full shelves at the Southampton Village Waldbaums supermarket, the balance in the room tipped toward fans of a proposed King Kullen supermarket at Southampton Town’s public hearing on the matter Tuesday night.
Developer Robert Morrow is seeking a zone change on three full parcels and a portion of a fourth parcel of land, totalling 7.26 acres, on County Road 39 just east of Magee Street.
The three full parcels are currently zoned hamlet business and the fourth portion of a parcel, which would provide access to the property from Magee Street, is zoned residential. If the town board agrees to the zoning change, the properties would be rezoned “shopping center business.”
That change would be necessary in order to build the 40,000-square-foot grocery store and three other buildings with smaller shops: an 8,400-square-foot and a 6,600-square-foot building and a 3,500-square-foot bank.
Mr. Morrow’s attorney, John Wagner, said that, under the current zoning, the property could have a 60,000-square-foot building on it and could be divided into four businesses with four seperate curb cuts.
The site is currently the location of the shuttered Enclave Inn and a private house just east of the Sunoco station on the southeast corner of Magee Street.
Mr. Wagner said the project would include green features like permeable pavers, rooftop solar panels, green roofs, low flow plumbing, native planting and LED lighting.
He said the project would save 700,000 miles per year of vehicle traffic on Southampton roads, while producing 4.5 times more tax revenue for local schools and government.
“This is not a megaproject, although it’s being accused as such,” he said. “By today’s standards, it’s a small supermarket. The Hampton Bays Stop & Shop is 50,000 square feet. The one on Route 58 in Riverhead is 65,000 square feet.”
But avoiding the possiblity that County Road 39 could begin to look like Route 58 in Riverhead seemed at the forefront of thoughts of opponents.
“Suburban retail sprawl is my concern with the project,” said Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley. “This is purely about precedent-setting… If you pass this, every project that comes in front of this board is going to look for a zoning change and they’re going to use this as a precedent.”
The site is just outside the village boundary and under the purview of Southampton Town.
Mr. Epley urged the town board to go to Riverhead and look at Route 58 if they want to see what that change might mean.
Southampton Village resident John Bennett said he thought the project would suck business out of the village.
“The Village of Southampton has always been the economic cornerstone of Southampton,” he said. “It’s your duty to protect the well-being of the village. Where’s the market study of its effect on existing businesses?”
Mr. Bennett added that letting “your property go to pot and then when you fix it up you request a zone change? That’s twisted logic…. It’s a purely self-created hardship.”
Shawn Mett of North Bishops Lane in Southampton disagreed.
“I’m not opposed to it at all. I think it’s a great project. I don’t think you can stifle growth in this area,” he said, adding that he goes to King Kullen in Hampton Bays or Bridgehampton to avoid shopping at the Waldbaums in Southampton.
“I’m sort of over the village. I don’t like going there in the summer,” he said.
Douglas Einhorn agreed.
“All the supermarkets in the area, they’re not really up to standards. They’re pretty sub-par,” he said. “They’re not clean, the produce is pretty rotten and shelves are not stocked. I go to Hampton Bays because I won’t go shopping in Southampton.”
Tony Zarro, who has worked in Southampton Village for more than 30 years, said he thinks the proposal makes a mockery of the town’s zoning laws.
“It’s almost amoral,” he said. “I’m not saying Southampton doesn’t need another supermarket or that Waldbaums isn’t a crappy supermarket, but this is just dangerous and thoughtless.”
Greg Stanley of Phillips Lane said he and his wife shop at King Kullen in Hampton Bays, but would rather shop in Southampton.
“That property has been unsightly for years. The project as proposed would be a complement to our community,” he said. “I can’t shop at Citerella or other upscale supermarkets. It’s just not me. Bob Morrow has a successful record in our town. He volunteers at the Bridgehampton Museum and does good things for our community.”
Former Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer said he thought the project would create “a village outside the village.”
“Think of it as an economic sponge — designed to suck up as many people and as much money as they can from the surrounding area,” he said.
Scott Armachevitz of Southampton said his wife went to the supermarket in Hampton Bays during terrible road conditions just after the blizzard two weeks ago and was gone an hour longer than he’d expected because of the bad roads. She went there, he said, because the supermarket in Southampton is “terrible.”
“As a kid, there were three supermarkets and a much smaller population sustained three grocery stores and mom and pop businessses,” he said.
Bob DeLuca of the Group for the East End said his organization strongly opposes and will continue to oppose the project.
Citing the town’s 1970 comprehensive plan, he said “high volume uses should not be on high volume transportation arteries,” and added that the store would be on “probably one of the worst stretches of road in the entire town, with no possibility of further improvement.”
Joseph Fratello of Southampton said he was recently working with the editor of Fine Homebuilding Magazine on a shoot of a house in the Hamptons. The editor, who hadn’t been to the Hamptons, took a look at the sprawl on County Road 39 and said “wow, this is Southampton? I thought it would be nicer.”
“I’m tired of looking at crappy run-down restaurants,” he said. “It’s time we acknowledge this is a much beter alternative than what four seperate contractors would build. It’s just going to keep looking like garbage,” he said, adding that he has to watch his kids for an extra hour now so that his wife can drive to Hampton Bays to go food shopping.
“All my friends drive to Hampton Bays to go food shopping,” he said.
Matthew Breitenback, who works for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Bridgehampton, said he likes the project.
“I’m preaching for the youth of this community. I think something of this nature is a positive thing. We need some of this,” he said. “I’m tired of car dealerships. I think this is a great development.”
Former city planner Abraham Wallach wasn’t convinced.
“In the abstract, this is an incredibly wonderful project, but we don’t live in an abstract world. We live in the real world,” he said, adding that he believes the developer will keep trying to increase the size of the project.
He added that he believes it will be impossible for people heading west to make the turn into the parking lot of the supermarket, which is not at an intersection.
“This project should be sitting at the corner where the gas station is,” he said. “It doesn’t belong here.
“The village has a supermarket. We are acting like someone who has heart disease and goes to the doctor and gets a splint on his arm,” he said, adding that the Waldbaums property has changed hands and could be fixed up.
Francis Genovese, who had planned to use her time to discuss flaws in the town’s draft environmental impact statement for the project, seemed disgusted with the tone in the room.
“This meeting has been turned into a revival. This is not a pulpit,” she said. “We have the deification of Mr. Morrow when we have traffic studies and statements that are pure religiousity. We’re asked to believe everything in this flawed, empty DEIS…. There’s as much science in these presentations as banging a drum to cure malaria.”
Steve Storch of Water Mill said he believed the town had made a mockery of its colonial history with big construction proposals, including the Sandy Hollow Cove workforce housing complex and the redevelopment of the Tiderunners property near the Shinnecock Canal.
“I think now we’ve played out the 15,000-square-foot shingle-style colonial thing,” he said. “We’re making a mockery of colonists with a house that 20 families could live in in colonial times. Let’s do some innovative development and construction here.”
The board held over the public hearing to their next meeting on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m.