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Nov 24, 2014 4:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Community Opposition And Stumbling Blocks From Municipalities Are Nothing New For CVS

Nov 25, 2014 10:26 AM

Not so very long ago, residents in Sag Harbor successfully fought, and prevented, a CVS Pharmacy from setting up shop in the village. Opponents said they fought the proposal not just because CVS is a large, nationwide chain, but because they felt it was unnecessary for another pharmacy to be in town when they already had the locally owned Sag Harbor Pharmacy on Main Street.

CVS had gone as far as to offer to buy out the small Sag Harbor Pharmacy—which sparked outrage among opponents and ultimately raised the awareness of village officials, whose redesign of the village code managed to keep the giant retailer from moving in.

Fast-forward almost 10 years, and CVS is back again, this time with proposals to open stores in Bridgehampton and Westhampton Beach.

The reaction to these proposals is nothing new—most residents are unhappy with the idea of the chain pharmacies for reasons that are not all that different from the ones that came into play in Sag Harbor. In Bridgehampton, there’s not only an issue of community character but also the fact that the company is looking to open on the corner of the hamlet’s busiest intersection, where traffic and parking are already an issue for existing retailers. In Westhampton Beach, CVS has its eye on a block with a pharmacy that has been in business in the village for more than two decades, and there is also a Rite Aid just around corner.

Both the Southampton Town Planning Board, which is handling the Bridgehampton application, and the Westhampton Beach Village Board have required environmental reviews for the CVS applications in their jurisdictions. Recently, the company filed a lawsuit against the Town Planning Board arguing that the determination for Bridgehampton was illegal and is a way for the board to stall on making a decision to grant a special exception permit. CVS needs that permit to bypass the town’s cap on 5,000 square feet of space for single retailers so it can be the sole tenant of the 9,030-square-foot building on the corner of Montauk Highway, where it intersects with Lumber Lane, Ocean Road and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

It is not clear if CVS plans to take legal action against the Westhampton Beach Village Board as well.

‘A Drain On
The Community’

Planning and real estate experts say the community opposition, and obstacles in the form of town and village regulations, are not unusual when a company like CVS attempts to open on the South Fork. CVS, in particular, they say, is a business that typically likes to adhere to its own style when it comes to store design. And with its high volume of customers and wide stock of inventory, it can become a threat to locally owned businesses that sell similar items.

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a smart-growth planning organization based in Northport, said there is never a “one-size-fits-all approach” when it comes to a business like CVS. “There’s some that seem to fit in fairly well without incident, and then there are some that seem to be a drain on the community,” he said. “Long Island is a community of communities, so what works in one community won’t necessarily work in another one.”

According to CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis, the company opens hundreds of stores per year, including ones on Long Island on a regular basis. He said CVS tends to look for locations that are highly visible, easily accessible, and convenient overall for customers. There are currently 125 stores spanning Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The company opens as many stores as it does annually because of a rising need for pharmacies, which Mr. DeAngelis attributed to the fact that 10,000 people a day turn 55, and with that comes a rising demand for more prescription medications.

Mr. DeAngelis did acknowledge the community opposition CVS often receives, but he said the company works with residents and municipalities to come up with a concept for a store that everyone agrees on.

“If concerns are raised by the community, the way we handle it is we work with our developer and local neighborhood groups to work out what those problems are,” he said. “What we’ve found is that once we go through that process and the store is open, they become productive and complementary additions to the community.”

‘Snob-Effect’?

Some would beg to differ, though.

Nancy Walter-Yvertes, chair of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, met with CVS’s regional director of real estate, David Berman, over the summer in light of the community’s concerns, which range from anticipated traffic problems to a desire to preserve the character of Bridgehampton’s Main Street. Ms. Walter-Yvertes said the meeting left her disappointed because she did not feel the company was responding to what she and other residents thought were substantial and relevant concerns.

“They have made no attempt whatsoever to work with us on this issue,” she said. “During the summer, our larger group of neighborhood supporters, many of them summer people, mailed dozens of letters to CVS, at all levels. At that time, they made no attempt to negotiate and find a more suitable spot. There was some discussion of signage and landscaping. We were not impressed.”

But John Bennett, the Southampton-based attorney representing CVS for both the Bridgehampton and Westhampton Beach applications, said the building CVS is seeking to occupy in the eastern hamlet will be in keeping with local architecture because it was already approved by the Town Planning Board in 2011.

Mr. Bennett added that the opposition surrounding the Bridgehampton CVS in particular is puzzling to him, as stores in other nearby communities have fit in well with their surroundings.

“The Village of Southampton has a CVS. The Village of East Hampton has a CVS. I literally don’t understand the concern of it. It’s a real snob-effect,” Mr. Bennett said. “You hear a lot of people saying … they’d love to have a Ralph Lauren at that corner. Bridgehampton’s so special that they can’t have a CVS?”

Part Of A Small Town?

Meanwhile, in Westhampton Beach, the concern is less about traffic and building aesthetics and more about preserving the village’s small-town feel.

Hank Beck, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee-West, said that because there is already a Rite Aid, along with the locally owned Barth’s Pharmacy, he doesn’t believe Westhampton Beach’s demographics would be able to support a third, 10,000-square-foot pharmacy. And rather than attempt to become part of the community, as CVS has suggested is its general practice, Mr. Beck said he feels the pharmacy is being forced on residents instead.

Barth’s Pharmacy on Sunset Avenue is just feet away from the former Westhampton Bowl property that CVS has its eye on. But the idea of it being so close has not scared owner Lou Cassara, who said that even though it’s not something he wants to see happen in the village, he is confident that he has a loyal enough clientele who would choose to shop at his pharmacy over one like CVS.

Mr. Cassara also echoed Mr. Beck’s comments about keeping Westhampton Beach a community with as few chain stores as possible.

“I think the effects are further than the effects on Barth’s Pharmacy,” Mr. Cassara said. “Just the psychical presence of [CVS] in a town like Westhampton Beach, where locals have preserved for decades as a small town … is ruined. It is a chain, and it’s basically undermining the presence of what a small village—this village—has been trying to maintain.”

One Plan Derailed

East End residents are not alone in their fight against CVS. In western Suffolk, in light of a petition that garnered more than 700 signatures, the company recently pulled the plug on a proposal in the hamlet of St. James without prejudice, meaning that CVS can come back at any time with a new plan.

Resident Mary Dwyer helped lead the opposition and the reasons she provided sounded quite familiar: a locally owned pharmacy, along with a desire to keep St. James a small, quaint hamlet. She also mentioned that there are already three CVS pharmacies within 2.7 miles of the proposed location there. “It’s overkill,” she said.

Ultimately, planning and real estate experts say there are pros and cons when it comes to companies like CVS. David Pennetta, executive director at the Long Island office of Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate brokerage, said big businesses like CVS can help expand a community’s tax base by adding more employment opportunities and keeping more young people in town. On the other hand, they can put local mom-and-pops out of business and change the face of a community, he acknowledged.

“You’ve got national big company branding, with the local people out here on Long Island not wanting things to change,” Mr. Pennetta said. “The way that the system works is that the residents have a very big say in what goes on in their villages and hamlets. Nobody’s at fault.”

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CAC's are over-rated and rarely express the views of the majority of people in the hamlet they assume (and presume) they represent. They do get a lot of Press though!
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 7, 14 11:08 AM
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