The proposed Bridgehampton Gateway shopping center and housing complex that was the darling of last year’s Southampton Town Board may yet be changed by the new town board, which Tuesday evening tabled the discussion on the project until April.
“We should have looked at the zoning so far as it not meeting what the community had hoped,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman as the board adjourned the hearing to April 26. “We need to take a closer look at this… The owner has not been pushing to do this. This is something the town initiated.”
The town board had initiated the proposal under the initial assertion that the complex could be the new site of a controversial CVS that had been proposed at the historic corner of Montauk Highway and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. The town has been working with property owners Carol and Greg Konner on a zoning change for the site.
The board is considering changing the zoning of the 13.3-acre Gateway site, comprised of nine separate tax lots on the south side of Montauk Highway across from the Bridgehampton Commons, from a mix of residential and highway business zoning into a mixed-use planned development district.
Currently, 90,000 square feet of store space could be built on the site, but the current proposal calls for 90,000 of store space as well as 32,000 square feet devoted to 30 affordable apartments and eight market rate condominium units, which would be built on the back side of the site near Kellis Pond.
All PDD applications must include what’s known as a “community benefit,” and in this case, the town has envisioned the affordable housing as providing that community benefit.
The project would have a 1.5 acre field in front, meant to evoke Bridgehampton’s agricultural history, with two curb cuts on Montauk Highway, one at the existing traffic light at the Bridgehampton Commons, and an entry road designed like a main street, with diagonal parking along the sides, and buildings ranging from 3,600 to 15,000 square feet, designed to look like farm outbuildings.
The proposal has created an uproar in Bridgehampton, particularly among residents who enjoy the nature surrounding Kellis Pond, and who spoke almost uniformly against the proposal at its third public hearing Feb. 23.
While Town Planning and Development Director Kyle Collins said the project would have an “on-site, state of the art sewage treatment plant,” clean water advocate Kevin McAllister said he hasn’t been informed of what type of sewage treatment plant would be used.
“State-of-the-art? I’m not sure what that means,” said Mr. McAllister, adding that Suffolk County has only approved a few intermediate flow systems for use here.
Mr. McAllister added that he doesn’t believe more housing is a community benefit, when the project is so close to the pond. He urged the town to mandate the use of advanced septic systems that reduce nitrogen to at most 3 milligrams per liter for projects with a septic flow ranging from 1,000 to 30,000 gallons per day, as Brookhaven Town has done in the Carman’s River watershed.
“I strongly urge you to require the highest achievable levels,” he said. “This should not be negotiated.”
Former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, who lives in Noyac, said there are 25 freshwater ponds east of the Shinnecock Canal in Southampton Town, and almost all of them are surrounded by undeveloped land. He said he believes there’s no way of avoiding the 25,000 gallons of water per day expected to be generated by the project from going into the watershed and the pond.
“Three parts per million (the equivalent of 3 milligrams per liter) of nitrogen is not good enough for me,” he said, adding that human medicines will not be screened out by nitrogen filters, and could change the sex characteristics of fish in the pond.
“This shouldn’t be here. This should be some kind of parkland for the citizens of Southampton and Bridgehampton,” he said.
Susan Rimland, whose husband is the president of the Kellis Pond Property Owners Association, comprised of nine homes in a gated community surrounding the lake, said the project “is and was a terrible idea from the start,” and added that the fact that the town initiated it is “highly unusual.”
Ms. Rimland added that she is uncomfortable with “moderate income housing bordering the property line” of her community, and said the proposal shows “how little regard the town has for taxpaying residents.”
Marjorie Hayes said she believes many people in Bridgehampton are still unaware of the proposal.
“As the community becomes informed, most people find this rather shocking, particularly in an ecologically sensitive area” she said. “It seems highly inappropriate.”
Bonnie Verbitsky said a petition circulating throughout the community to stop the project had garnered 800 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
“We cannot even keep the current shopping centers filled,” she said, adding that the biggest traffic bottleneck in the Hamptons is in Bridgehampton.
Pamela Harwood said she had only just now learned that the 90,000-square-foot building size only comprised the commercial spaces in the project.
Attorney Jeff Bragman, speaking on behalf of the group Bridgehampton Action Now, said the project violates several guidelines outlined in the town’s Bridgehampton hamlet study, including the assertion that Bridgehampton Commons should be the only large-scale shopping center in the hamlet.
“The idea that a one-acre lawn surrounded by an inadequate parking lot introduces you to the rural character of Bridgehampton doesn’t support the rhetoric,” he said, adding that a shopping center would create an “economic monoculture.”
“The planning issues on this are self-evident,” he added. “This is a maximum-build plan. It assumes as a given that the developer gets 100 percent of what he can get.”
“This is not a gateway plan,” he added. “This is a giveaway plan.”
A Wait on Water Plan
The new Southampton Town Board has also decided to hold off closing the public hearing on the town’s proposed Water Protection Plan, which had originally been proposed to serve as a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan but is now being considered as an element of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
The plan, which contains 13 guidelines for improving water quality throughout Southampton, was stymied by opponents last year who said it would cede authority to the state. While LWRPs must be approved by the state, once they are approved they do grant towns greater home rule authority over their waterways.
The board kept the public hearing open to March 22 and declined to vote Tuesday evening on a resolution adopting the plan.
At Tuesday’s public hearing, clean water advocate Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O said he believes the plan should pay closer attention to retreating from the coastlines in light of climate change.
“This is well-founded, well-settled science,” he said. “It’s profound the changes that we can expect.”
Mr. McAllister said the waters surrounding Southampton could be 2.5 feet higher by the 2050s, and six feet higher by 2100.
“That is momentous,” he said, adding that it will be unsustainable, both financially and environmentally, to protect some areas on barrier beaches, especially along Dune Road, which may be raised to make it passable.
Mr. McAllister urged the board to move the Tiana Beach Lifesaving Station, formerly the Neptune Beach Club on Dune Road, purchased for preservation last year by the town, to the mainland before it is rebuilt.
Ann Reisman, who serves as a member of the town’s water protection advisory committee, said she believes “time is pressing” in the adoption of the plan, and she’d like to see it incorporated into the town’s comprehensive plan, with the understanding that the town board will begin work on specific projects outlined in the plan.
New Councilman John Bouvier, who assumed sponsorship of the plan along with new Councilwoman Julie Lofstad (it had originally been sponsored by former Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who became a county legislator this year), said he wants to thoroughly review the plan before voting on it.
He added that he’d like to work with Councilwoman Christine Scalera on the issues raised by Mr. McAllister.
“I hope you’ll indulge us this extra time,” he said.
“This is really the first hearing before this full board,” added Ms. Scalera.
“It’s hard to argue with any of these 13 policies, but it’s a lot to digest,” agreed Mr. Schneiderman.
The public hearing will be reopened March 22.
North Sea Schoolhouse Gets Historic Designation
At the threat of having their tires punctured in the parking lot of Town Hall if they didn’t vote yes, the board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to designate the North Sea Schoolhouse, now owned by the North Sea Community Association, a historic landmark.
The building was the second schoolhouse in North Sea, said Landmarks and Historic Districts Chairwoman Sally Spanburgh at Tuesday’s public hearing. The first building was constructed in 1650 at the intersection of North Sea and Noyac roads, but was later moved and converted to a house.
The second schoolhouse was built in 1908 on the land where it currently sits on Noyac Road, across the street from the North Sea Fire Department. It was built by James M. Jagger, and was used as a schoolhouse until it was purchased by the community association in the 1930s.
“I grew up at the community house, it was literally down the street from me,” said North Sea Community Association President William Sacher. “I’ve been a part of it all my life and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
“This designation is just tremendous,” said North Sea resident John Clark, who cautioned that anyone who voted against the historic designation might have their tires deflated. Mr. Clark added that he is also grateful that the town recently purchased the former Jet East nightclub on North Sea Road through the CPF fund.
“The North Sea Community Association and I share the same starting date,” added longtime North Sea resident John Griffin. “Maybe I can be declared a historic landmark.”
The designation passed unanimously.