SOUTHAMPTON—The Southampton Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday night to reject an application for a special zoning designation to clear the way for a proposed shopping center off County Road 39 in Tuckahoe.
Board members said that the project, which called for a 40,000-square-foot King Kullen grocery store surrounded by retail shops and restaurants, is not in the best interest of the town. The decision by the board to halt consideration of the planned development district, or PDD, application effectively kills the project after more than a year of at times heated dispute involving the developer and residents of the Tuckahoe area and Southampton Village business owners.
“The PDD was not a suitable project in either form or scale and did not fit the area,” Councilman Chris Nuzzi said at a Town Board work session last week. “Bottom line, it represented the wrong project in the wrong area.”
The initial plans for the project, dubbed “Tuckahoe Main Street” by developer Robert Morrow, called for the supermarket to anchor more than 100,000 square feet of commercial space, including a bank branch, several restaurants, numerous retail storefronts and a dozen apartments on the 6-acre parcel just north of County Road 39, near the intersection with Magee Street.
In December, after months of strident opposition from residents of the Tuckahoe area, Mr. Morrow and the property’s owners, Lyle Pike and Lance Nill, unveiled a new design for the embattled project, which reduced the proposed retail space from more than 75,000 square feet to just 15,000 square feet and eliminated the residential apartments and a stand-alone restaurant building.
Even in its scaled-down form, the project drew unfavorable reactions from community members, who voiced concerns over traffic conditions on the busy stretch of County Road 39.
“I think it’s good to be clear that our main objection to this was the supermarket,” Rick Sobervinas, a Tuckahoe resident, told the Town Board on Tuesday night just before the vote to reject the proposal. “A 40,000-square-foot supermarket that all the studies show should not be there. That is why it is zoned highway business there, with a 15,000-square-foot maximum.”
Mr. Sobervinas said Tuckahoe residents, represented by the Tuckahoe/Shinnecock Hills Citizens Advisory Committee, are concerned the project will pop up again in a new form in the future.
The current zoning on the parcels Mr. Morrow and his partners have bought would allow up to four 15,000-square-foot commercial buildings to be built, although town code restricts the types of businesses that could be built to those deemed to have a low traffic impact—offices, commercial businesses or retailers selling goods that are not common everyday needs, like furniture or appliances. Mr. Morrow—who could not be reached for comment this week—has said in the past that he might follow through with a project permitted by current zoning if the PDD proposal was rejected.
When first introduced, Mr. Morrow’s proposal, which mimicked one proposed by another developer in 2008, drew strong criticism from Southampton Village business owners, who feared the retail stores would detract from their business. Mr. Morrow defended the project, saying the placement of the grocery store and essential retail services, optometrists, pharmacies and barber shops in Tuckahoe would ease congestion in the village and help businesses there attract customers. The sort of businesses that he could build on the property without seeking a PDD from the Town Board, like a furniture store, would be more of a threat to the village’s businesses.
The Tuckahoe Main Street application put the spotlight of public scrutiny on the town’s use of PDDs, a legislative tool used by the board to bypass approved zoning on specific properties for projects that are deemed to provide an important community benefit. In the wake of the wave of opposition to the Tuckahoe proposal, the Town Board convened an advisory panel to examine and overhaul the town’s decade-old PDD legislation. Shortly before the vote on the Tuckahoe project, the board held its fourth public hearing session on the proposed changes to the PDD law, which aim to increase community involvement in the early stages of a PDD application and simplify the application process.
The draft legislation reorganizes the protocol for PDD applications to notify communities of projects being considered and bring public comment into the review process at the earliest stages, before a developer has spent months and money on drafting a detailed development plan.
“The goal is to try to bring a process more transparent, more inclusionary and better rounded,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said on Tuesday evening, “and include extensive notification to the effected hamlet and neighbors and bring the community into the process at a very early stage. It would also give the applicant a very clear road map for the kind of information the Town Board and the community in general is looking for to best understand what is being proposed.”