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Apr 26, 2016 2:31 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Gateway PDD Proposal: An Alternative To Existing Zoning, For Better Or Worse

The plans for the Bridgehampton Gateway in Bridgehampton have proved to be controversial.
Apr 27, 2016 10:53 AM

Carol Konner says that if the Bridgehampton Gateway proposal does not move forward, the property across from the Bridgehampton Commons could be destined to the fate of much of County Road 39 in Southampton.

That might mean not just car dealerships but fast-food restaurants, according to Ms. Konner of Konner Development, which owns the roughly 13 acres of land, and is seeking special zoning from the town to develop it. A public hearing on Tuesday, May 3, could go a long way toward deciding whether the Town Board is willing to grant the request.

Opponents of the town-sponsored planned development district targeting the site—and they include the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, which has been actively involved in guiding the plan—say there are safeguards in place that would avoid a worst-case scenario from happening. The town’s regulatory boards could have the ability to restrict Ms. Konner’s fallback option, which might include the full development of the site under current zoning, by requiring nearly twice the number of parking spaces now proposed, cutting back on the amount of property that could be developed. The town also can control the design of any development and has never been accommodating to fast-food restaurant proposals.

Still, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman last week noted that the proposed Gateway PDD restricts the commercial development to about 5,000 square feet less than the existing zoning would allow. He also noted that the proposal includes affordable housing units, which are “desperately needed” and would be the reason the overall square footage of the proposal would exceed the as-of-right commercial development.

More importantly, he said, it also would assure that the development just west of Bridgehampton’s downtown business district, across Montauk Highway from Bridgehampton Commons, would “not look like across the street, not look like County Road 39, but look closer to what downtown [Bridgehampton] looks like.”

The PDD Proposal

The property is currently a town-initiated mixed-use PDD proposal, which is a blend of different uses that would allow for development that is currently blocked by the existing zoning, in exchange for community benefits.

If the cluster of nine properties covering the 13 acres were to be developed for highway business use, which is the existing zoning for the land, the developers would be entitled to about 90,000 square feet of commercial space. Household appliance stores, radio and television stores, as well as auto and home supply stores are all permitted uses under highway business, according to the town code. Car dealerships and fast-food restaurants would require a special exception permit—but they are allowed in a highway business zone.

The Gateway PDD proposal recently has been scaled back to a total of 105,000 square feet, including 85,000 square feet of commercial space, 15,000 square feet of affordable housing—the part of the project that satisfies the “community benefit”—and about 5,000 square feet of market-rate housing.

“We don’t need more big-box stores, we don’t need more car dealerships,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “They can still do restaurants and car dealers—a lot of uses are allowed in highway businesses.”

Ms. Konner said she has received a lot of interest in the Gateway site from both retailers and restaurants, though nothing besides an Equinox Fitness Club is set in stone. “It would be virtually anything that you need to have in a village to live,” she said of the amenities that could be offered by businesses for Gateway. She said has spoken with Apple about a potential store for the development, Anthony’s Coalfire Pizza, and Arhaus Furniture, which recently opened a store in Manhasset.

Much of the space would also be dedicated to “small service stores, like a shoemaker or alteration spot, or maybe a yarn [store],” she said, adding, “It could be any number of things—or maybe a vet.”

What’s The Alternative?

Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins had said earlier this month that if the Konners—Carol Konner and her son Greg—proceed with developing the property with 90,000 square feet of total commercial space under current zoning, they would have a reasonably clear path, as long as the uses they choose are permitted in the code. “The design, ultimately, of an as-of-right [project] under highway business would just have to meet the standards under highway business,” he said. “Under the PDD, there is definitely a more flexible type of use. Highway business is more of an auto-oriented design, where you just go, shop and leave.”

According to town documents, if the land were to be developed for highway business, the stores that would be put there would be considered regional uses, and would be designed to attract people from at least 50 miles away—which could greatly increase the traffic on Montauk Highway.

At one point, Mr. Collins had presented a worst-case scenario of as-of-right development of the nine properties under current zoning. Such a layout could feature six separate commercial buildings on adjacent properties along Montauk Highway, each 15,000 square feet, the maximum allowed on a highway business lot. That would leave two potential building lots in the rear for single-family homes—most likely large ones. Each of the lots might be developed individually, he said, and might look drastically different.

“There is no coordination between the sites, and we don’t get the open space,” Mr. Collins said then of the alternative to a PDD plan. “We don’t get the coordination in the design being achieved by the PDD and the site plan.”

He reiterated the point in a recent interview: “It would be up to the Konners about how they want it to come in. They could come in for a complete build-out of the site, or they could come piecemeal and handle.”

But Dennis Finnerty, chair of the Southampton Town Planning Board, said this week that there is one potential restriction that could give the Planning Board the opportunity to restrict such an option: the amount of mandated parking. It could constrain the as-of-right development, he said, as there would need to be space for enough parking to support the full 90,000 square feet of commercial development.

“The limiting factor of square footage is parking,” he said. “I don’t know that they can demonstrate adequate parking. If they can’t, they would have to reduce space.”

Different uses of space also require different amounts of parking. Since highway business is vehicle-oriented, Mr. Finnerty said, that means more parking spaces would be needed than, say, for a mixed-use development such as the Gateway proposal. There are currently about 300 parking spaces planned for the Gateway, which allows for the spots to be shared among different uses.

Town documents on the project indicate that there would need to be about 600 parking spots to support as-of-right commercial development of 90,000 square feet.

Otherwise, the town also has architectural review powers it could use to screen the application and control how such a complex might be designed under highway business. But, ultimately, if “it’s in the zoning code … it can be developed like that,” Mr. Finnerty said of the allowable uses under highway business.

Fine Either Way

Unlike other PDD applications, the Gateway proposal, which dates back more than a decade, has its roots in Town Hall: Town officials saw the potential for problems since the cluster of nine properties was owned by various entities, with various visions: Leonard Riggio, the former president of Barnes & Noble and a Bridgehampton resident, had famously planned a bookstore on 10 acres of the land. The idea was to pull the various owners of all 13 acres together under a PDD and guide the project into something more palatable for local residents—and perhaps to add some much needed affordable housing to the town’s stock.

But Ms. Konner has targeted the properties since 1995, slowly acquiring the various parcels. In 2013, she finally became the sole owner of all nine parcels when she purchased the 10 acres from Mr. Riggio.

A Bridgehampton resident, Ms. Konner has worked with the town and its Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee on the proposal since purchasing the properties. She maintains that her vision is not to develop the property as intensely as possible, but to create a commercial plaza of sorts, with stores of all kinds and public spaces mixed in, and some residences, that would truly be a “gateway” to the hamlet of Bridgehampton. “I want it to be a middle-class neighborhood shopping area, pleasant to sit out, have a drink,” she said. “I am not looking to have stores that price the public out of the market.”

Mr. Schneiderman echoed that and said it would be beneficial for the town to have a place to “congregate and address community needs locally.” Under the current Gateway plan, there is a proposed community green, which could be used for farmers markets and craft shows. “It seems like it could be real positive things,” he said.

Mr. Collins said that if the PDD fails, it would be difficult for Ms. Konner to get a use variance for, say, retail stores at the site, because the state requires that the developer show that “you can’t use the property for whatever is permitted under current zoning.”

“It would be marginally less profitable—not a lot,” said Ms. Konner about the possibility of having to choose the highway business route should the PDD application ultimately be rejected. “The asset value would be less, because the retail space [with a PDD] is worth more than the highway business space.

“In either case, I am going to have a profit—I bought it with highway business, so, obviously, I did my homework. I would be okay with that,” she added.

Critics Remain

The Bridgehampton CAC and Bridgehampton Action Now, a newly formed community group, are both now opposed to the Gateway PDD, saying it is too much development for the corridor. Both have suggested that they would rather see as-of-right development.

“I like lots of things about it—it is just too big,” CAC member and former chair Nancy Walter-Yvertes said last week, noting that if it were scaled down even more, to about 70,000 square feet of commercial space in total, she would reconsider her position.

At a CAC meeting on Monday, most of the members supported a resolution opposed to the Gateway proposal. Several expressed concern that the effort by the developer to put in smaller shops would be too much competition for the hamlet’s Main Street, and that the Gateway development would not have enough parking spaces to support it.

“We have always been threatened by both the town and the developer, saying, if we don’t do this PDD, we will get a Jiffy Lube,” said Bridgehampton CAC Chair Pamela Harwood. “Any new development on this scale would be beholden to have a certain architectural look.”

She added, “Highway business does not necessarily mean that we wouldn’t have a great sewage system, that we wouldn’t have nice-looking buildings, that we wouldn’t have all these other things.”

Bridgehampton resident Tony Lambert, who said he supports the Gateway PDD, countered that the reason traffic is worse in the hamlet is because of the increased construction of homes—and that the prices of those new homes are limiting affordable options for local residents. “The people are coming all the way up from up the island to build out here, to build $5.5 million houses,” he said. “We need more affordable housing, because children my age and below have to move down to another state to live ... they can’t afford it here because of a $5.5 million house.”

A public hearing on May 3 at 6 p.m. will determine whether the town should move forward with environmental impact statements to clear the way for the PDD. “I think you are talking about things that are for professionals to answer, and they will be answered next Tuesday night,” said Ms. Konner at the CAC meeting on Monday.

“I will support whatever is in the best interest of this village, and I will come out fine,” she added. “I said to the town that this is your application, your village and you’ve got me out defending it. Why?”

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I have known Carol Konner for over 30 years and every project she was involved in was not only a success but done in a profession manner with integrity and contributed to the neighborhoods surrounding each project. She has the ultimate in taste and never has bartered her integrity to anyone. She has worked tirelessly over the past few years with the town planners to make this Gateway not only a great place to have a business but also a great place for the locals to live.Funny thing that when CVS ...more
By xtiego (696), bridgehampton on Apr 26, 16 5:23 PM
Finally there is a proposal for a well thought out and developed PDD that includes open space and affordable housing. MORE developments are needed like this from the Eastport area out to East Hampton. Planned Development is a necessity when the Hamptons are reaching a breakpoint. Just look through the comments on 27East and you will see more complaints of traffic, building and lack of housing for local children/graduates than ever. The population is not going to shrink until the next housing bust, ...more
By Mouthampton (419), Southampton on Apr 27, 16 12:51 AM
bay street, sag harbor,