The Southampton Town Board will likely vote in January on whether to change the zoning of several parcels surrounding the Shinnecock Canal to allow the restoration of the Canoe Place Inn to the west of the canal and a new townhouse development on the east side at the former location of Tiderunners restaurant.
The board closed the third public hearing on the zoning change Dec. 9 after more than an hour of public comment from residents — many of whom hoped to see the Canoe Place Inn restored but were concerned that developers were trying to push through the townhouse project because of public sentiment in favor of the CPI restoration.
The town’s most recent concern has been the best method of keeping septic waste from the project from damaging the canal. Hydrogeologist Stephanie Davis was hired by the town to examine alternative septic systems and made her recommendations to the town board at a work session Dec. 4.
Ms. Davis said at the Dec. 9 hearing that she recommends Rechler Equity Partners, the developers of the project, install a “permiable reactive barrier” system on the CPI side of the canal, which would keep septic waste, drainage and landscaping fertilizers from reaching the canal.
On the east side, she said, she recommends the developers install a Nitrex advanced nitrogen-removing septic system to handle the septic waste from the 37 townhouses proposed there.
“A Nitrex system will only remove nitrogen from the waste stream, but will do nothing to treat nitrogen already moving through property, or from landscaping,” she said of her recommendaton for the CPI side of the canal, adding that the permiable reactive barrier “is a far more wholistic approach to nitrogen removal.”
She said the amount of nitrogen from non-septic sources on the townhouse side was not significant enought to warrant installing a barrier to keep all nitrogen from reaching the canal.
Applicant Greg Rechler said his firm plans to increase public access to the water on the west side of the canal, repairing an existing fishing pier there and building a 240-foot floating dock that would be open to the public for walking, fishing and transiant boat use.
But members of the public were skeptical of the Rechlers’ plan to purchase that property from Suffolk County, which has already designated the property for public use, instead of allowing public access to the east side of the canal.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst added that the town parks and recreation building next door to the pier could one day be repurposed as a museum.
Mr. Rechler also agreed to allow covenants and restrictions on the CPI property ensuring that the building be used as an inn in perpetuity.
“The Canoe Place Inn is very important to the project. It’s something we all need to know is going to remain forever,” he said. “No future owner three or four generations from now could make changes to the building.”
The project had originally included 40 townhouses averaging 2,400 square feet, but has been reduced to 37 smaller units, bringing the total mass of the project down from 93,000 square feet to 72,000 square feet.
Hampton Bays Beautification Association President Maud Kramer said the project is still too big.
“Thirty-seven towhouses is still too much density,” she said. “It does not offer any benefits to the community.”
“The Rechlers are willing to spend $1.5 million to buy county land, but that’s conditional upon the applicant gaining title to the county land,” she added of the pier.
Ms. Kramer added that the town’s master plan calls for a public promenade on the east side of the canal.
“Do not turn a willful eye against the town’s own policies,” she said.
Laurie Werner, who moved to Hampton Bays in 1973, said she doesn’t care whether the townhouses are built or not but she wants to see the Canoe Place Inn restored.
“Thisis a very controversial topic. I have friends on the other end of the stream,” she said. “People are saying we’re going to lose access [to the water on the east side] but I have never seen anybody at Tiderunners sitting on a beach chair reading a book.”
“The Canoe Place Inn would not be allowed to be destroyed in any other hamlet,” she said, adding that East Hampton had rebuilt Carl Fisher’s Montauk Playhouse as a community center, even when it had a hole in the roof, the Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor had been rebuilt after years of decay and even the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island “looked worse than the Canoe Place Inn looks now” in old scrapbooks.
“I don’t care about the condos. I’m here because I want to save the Canoe Place Inn,” she said.
Maria Holts of the Hampton Bays Civic Association said she believes the condominiums have “too much bulk” but she doesn’t want to see the Canoe Place Inn demolisthed.
“The condos should come in line,” she said.
Hampton Bays artist Hope Sandrow, who recently launched a change.org petition against the project that has garnered more than 500 signatures, said she believes the permiable barrier should be on both sides of the canal.
She said she hopes the town board keeps the public hearing open until all the issues have been addressed.
Caroline Ellis said she can’t believe the town is considering changing the zoning of the eastern property to allow 72 toilets, showers, washing machines and a septic treatment system.
“It’s almost like a form of blackmail. I’ll save the Canoe Place Inn if you let me build townhouses,” she said, adding that the nearby Hampton Maid had propsed an expension of just 18 units on six acres, “not 37 on four.”
“The historic Shinnecock Canal will be overdeveloped forever,” she said. “It makes me angry and sad at the same time that the almighty dollar seems to be the only thing that matters here.”
The town board is expected to vote on the zoning change at their Jan. 13 meeting, after which, if it passes, the project would go to the planning board for review.