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Apr 8, 2014 11:21 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Proposed Formula Store Legislation Doesn't Yet Have East Hampton Town Planning Board's Favor

Apr 8, 2014 1:27 PM

A new law to limit formula and chain stores in East Hampton doesn’t yet have the support of the town’s Planning Board.

At its meeting last Wednesday, April 2, members said they were feeling “uncomfortable” with how the proposed law is written, saying it may be too restrictive and doesn’t identify the problem.

“I think of myself as pro-business, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places,” said Planning Board Chairman Reed Jones. “What we have here in town is very unique and special. I do worry about the creep moving out this way—but we need to find a balance. The basic concept here is good, but I think some of this language in here is a little strong.”

The law, introduced a few weeks after a 7-Eleven received a building permit in Amagansett, would define what a “formula business” is and require that such businesses get a special permit from the Planning Board before moving forward with plans to build or expand.

Currently, the legislation defines a formula business as a type of retail sales establishment, including restaurants, which is under common ownership or control, or is a franchise. It must be one of 10 or more other businesses worldwide that has a standardized menu or merchandise, with 50 percent or more from a single distributor, a trademark that distinguishes the source of the goods, a standardized color, interior decor and uniform.

When before the Planning Board, the formula store must prove that it is compatible with existing surrounding uses and will not be obtrusive to the community’s rural and historic character in operation and aesthetics.

The law also states that a formula business cannot be within one mile of a historic district or within a half mile of any designated historic building.

While the Planning Board members seemed to support the general idea of having another layer of authority when it comes to chain stores moving into the area, the restriction on uniforms and decor seemed a bit too much.

“I can understand [not allowing formula stores] within a historic district to maintain its character, but we’re trying to get into the nitty-gritty of dress and logos—it’s getting a little strong,” said board member Diana Weir. “How can you tell a business not to use its brand?”

The proposed law seems to single out one or two establishments in the town, according to board member Ian Calder-Piedmonte. “The way it’s drafted, we would have to selectively enforce that,” he said. “I think we really have to highlight what the problem is with anything, or if there’s a problem at all. We’re trying too hard to accumulate a list of rules to keep out a couple of people.”

Ms. Weir said she was concerned that such a law would infringe upon a business owner’s constitutional right to do business. Board member Pat Schutte said it should be more about aesthetics than what goes on inside.

Overall, the board supported adding another layer of process for such stores and plans to continue the discussion tonight at its 6:30 p.m. meeting. Planning Board members then will submit their comments to the Town Board.

“It’s about protecting our community,” board member Nancy Keeshan said. “Our community has changed, but we want to maintain the sense of community, like mom-and-pop stores, that make this place so nice.”

The Town Board will hold a public hearing on Thursday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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