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Jan 26, 2016 10:38 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Holds Second Hearing; Decision On CVS Could Come Next Month

Lou Cassara, the owner of Barth's Pharmacy in Westhampton Beach, spoke up against the special exception application that would allow the owner of the old bowling alley in Westhampton Beach to build a 10,000 square foot store. GREG WEHNER
Jan 26, 2016 1:15 PM

Westhampton Beach residents were given a second and final chance to share their opinions on a proposed special exception application that, if approved, would allow a CVS Pharmacy to open in the old bowling alley building on Sunset Avenue in the village.

All but one of the seven individuals who addressed the Village Board during the hearing, held on the evening of last Wednesday, January 20, said they oppose the application, filed by Sunset West LLC of Manhattan, the owner of the gutted and vacant 20,000-square-foot building.

Those who addressed the board included Mark Jones, the husband of Lynne Jones, the owner of Lynne’s Cards and Gifts on Main Street, and John Neely, a local photographer. Both said their opposition was grounded in the fact that current zoning, which was updated less than a decade earlier, prohibits stores larger than 3,000 square feet in that area of the village.

The original goal of the zoning, approved in 2007, was to prevent chains from opening large stores within the municipality’s main business district, which spans all of Main Street and most of Sunset Avenue.

“We do need businesses in the village, but there has to be a limit. I don’t think anybody in this room wants to see a Walmart pop in here,” said Mr. Neely, who lives in Westhampton Beach. “There are size limits, and we get to the point where too big is just too big.

“I believe it really will affect the tone of the village and, for lack of a better word,” he continued, “the ambiance, the community.”

Lou Cassara, the owner of Barth’s Pharmacy in Westhampton Beach, which sits almost directly across the street from the former bowling alley building, has been opposed to the idea since it was first proposed. At last week’s hearing, he again emphasized that his opposition is not rooted in concerns about additional competition. A larger Rite Aid pharmacy already operates on the eastern end of Main Street, a use that predates the new zoning.

“I’m really not afraid of CVS,” said Mr. Cassara, who also boasts locations in East Moriches and East Quogue. “One on one, my pharmacists are better than theirs … ”

He explained that his bigger issue is with the board permitting a big-box store to open, and how members, in his opinion, are not considering the potential adverse impacts of such a decision in a small village.

“If anyone hasn’t read that a big-box store in a community [with a] population [of] less than 5,000 will not have an impact on the community, then excuse me and so be it—welcome to CVS,” Mr. Cassara said. “But I do think that that is not the case.”

Westhampton Beach Village Attorney Stephen Angel told the nearly three dozen residents in attendance last week that the 2006 Business Districts Comprehensive Plan Update, approved in April 2007, allows applicants—in this instance, the property owner and not CVS Pharmacy, the potential lessee—to apply for such a special exception even though zoning caps the size of retail stores along Main Street, Sunset Avenue and Mill Road at 3,000 square feet.

To apply for such a permit, the applicant must provide an impact study that evaluates whether or not the proposed use would negatively affect existing businesses. That study was completed and, according to Village Board member Brian Tymann, indicated that a special exception for the space should be granted.

The approval, however, also requires that property owners follow strict guidelines when renovating or building new stores, with the idea that they will encourage the construction of smaller stores and a more aesthetically pleasing, pedestrian-friendly development in the downtown area. As a result, the proposed CVS would blend with the surrounding storefronts so it does not look like a big-box store. In fact, the building it would be housed in will also feature six different storefronts, three on each side of the main entrance to CVS, including one that can accommodate a restaurant, to help disguise the true size of the larger pharmacy.

Additionally, Mr. Angel stressed that Village Board members cannot take into account the potential tenants when considering such special exemption requests. “The existence of private businesses, if they are [an] approved use in a zoned area, should be decided on by two entities: the business owner, to open, and the consumer, to shop there; not the government,” Mr. Tymann wrote in an email.

“I want to see progress and see viable businesses move in to the village, not abandoned buildings. And rather than have the possibility of a dozen vacant stores, having a 10,000-square-foot anchor tenant is much more sustainable,” he continued. “Nothing is perfect, but smart progress is good.”

Adam McDaid, who has lived in Westhampton Beach for three years, was the only village resident in support of the application to approach the podium at last week’s hearing. He noted that he voted for Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore because she promised that, if elected, she would work to improve relations between Village Hall and the local business community, and she would work to encourage more businesses to open in Westhampton Beach.

“I’m a business owner, I have friends that are business owners in this town, and I think that’s a great part of this community, as is Barth’s,” said Mr. McDaid, the head golf professional at the Friar’s Head golf course in Riverhead. “Bringing in an anchor tenant like CVS is just going to propel this town, or village, to what it should be and bring in more of these stores that we need.”

Prior to board members closing the hearing last week, Mr. Angel pointed out that they could not make a final decision on the application that evening, explaining that the applicant must still finalize certain aspects of the State Environmental Quality Review Act report that is also mandated. A few weeks back, Kyle Collins, the village board’s planning consultant, notified Sunset West LLC that it had to submit missing information prior to the board voting on the application. According to Mr. Tymann, that missing information included minor details, such as where the building’s dumpsters would be located.

Mr. Tymann said this week that he thinks the board could be ready to vote on the application at its next meeting on Thursday, February 4.

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