Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Conrad Teller had one word for two developers and a group of residents who attended last week’s work session to discuss a new supermarket proposal: “No.”
Despite the small crowd that had convened at Village Hall to express their support of the idea, Mr. Teller put his foot down and said there would be no discussion on the matter until a formal application had been filed by the developers—and maybe not even then.
Village Attorney Richard Haefeli reminded those in attendance on November 16 that board members will ultimately decide if they’re going to entertain a formal application, if one is filed, because the supermarket—which the developers want to build on the west side of Old Riverhead Road, just south of the railroad tracks—would require a change of zone.
“I have no intention to change our zoning law,” Mr. Teller said. “I don’t see any reason to belabor this further.”
When audience members asked if they could speak, the mayor said firmly: “It’s over.”
Members of the group, led by developer Andrew Mendelson, then stormed out of the meeting room and congregated in the outside hall for about 20 minutes before leaving.
“All I came there for was to ask for a public informational session, and I get executed,” Mr. Mendelson said when reached the next afternoon.
“They made a decision based on no application and [are] destroying it before it even got to the public,” he continued. “I don’t intend to go away. I don’t want to get into a battle, but I do want them to pay attention to the fact that the vast majority of people want this.”
East Quogue resident Carolee Kass, who attended the meeting, said she was disappointed with its outcome. Ms. Kass, who used to shop at the Waldbaum’s on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach, said she is not happy with the food quality or selection offered there. In turn, she now does most of her grocery shopping at the Stop & Shop in Hampton Bays.
“The mayor was so rude,” Ms. Kass said. “It was a kangaroo court. He’s a mayor—elected to be the voice of the people. He’s not the dictator.”
Mr. Mendelson originally appeared before the board on October 6 to ask that members consider his request for a public information session regarding his proposal. Though he has not yet filed an application with the village, Mr. Mendelson is looking to build an estimated 40,000-square-foot supermarket on 4.2 acres that he owns.
The issue is that the property, which is actually two parcels, is not zoned for a supermarket. According to Village Planner Kyle Collins, the parcel adjacent to Old Riverhead Road is zoned B-3 Business while the second property is a flag lot that’s zoned industrial. Both properties are now vacant. Grocery stores are allowed to be built only on land that’s zoned B-1 Business, which includes most of the village’s downtown business district.
Mr. Mendelson and fellow developer Bob Gianos attended the work session with the intent of asking the board if it had decided whether or not to consider their request for a informational meeting. The goal of the meeting, Mr. Mendelson said, was to get a sense of the public’s sentiment regarding their proposal.
Mr. Collins began last week’s meeting by offering an explanation of the history of zoning in the village, since it was adopted in 1953. Although there have been some changes to the village’s master plan over the years, Mr. Collins said its basic principle has not been altered: that the downtown business district be geared toward everyday needs and services, while the highway corridors—which includes Old Riverhead Road—were designed to host specific services, such as appliance and furniture stores.
“The purpose was to maintain the integrity of Main Street as a primary shopping area,” Mr. Collins said, adding that the same goal exists in the most recent comprehensive plan update.
Mr. Collins pointed to other communities, including Riverhead, Patchogue and Port Jefferson, that were negatively impacted by a huge influx of retail uses permitted along highway corridors that ultimately drew shoppers away from their respective downtowns. Waldbaum’s, the only supermarket in Westhampton Beach, is located on Sunset Avenue, just north of Main Street.
“Forefathers of the village had it right in the 1950s, and we still have it right,” Mr. Collins concluded.
Frank Isler, the attorney for the developers, said he had information that directly contradicted what Mr. Collins had said. “It’s simply not true,” he said.