The fate of a proposed two-story CVS on Main Street in Bridgehampton might now rest in the hands of Southampton Town’s chief building inspector, prompting local civic leaders to consider hiring an attorney if the pharmacy chain succeeds in dancing around the zoning code.
The CVS Caremark corporation, following two years of negotiations, signed a 25-year lease last week with BNB Ventures IV, the owners of the vacant property at 2510 Montauk Highway, located just east of Starbucks. The contract calls for the construction of a building that would feature a 4,400-square-foot retail store on the ground floor and a 4,400-square-foot pharmacy on the second floor. The basement, also measuring 4,400 square feet, would serve as storage space.
In February, a building permit was issued to BNB Ventures for the shell of the building—an overall design that members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee support—and Paul Kanavos, the real estate developer behind BNB Ventures, said construction could begin “in the near future.”
Michael Benincasa, the town’s chief building inspector, confirmed last week that he had been working with CVS officials for weeks on an application for the combination pharmacy/retail store.
That is because CVS, if it were to occupy the entire building, would have needed to secure a special exemption permit from the Planning Board. But if the pharmacy chain divided its operation into two separate corporate entities, replete with separate entrances for the two businesses, officials could avoid having to secure the permit.
And since the building permit has already been approved, Mr. Benincasa—and not the Town Planning Board—now has the final say on whether CVS can open for business.
“It has to be two clearly separate entities,” Mr. Benincasa said, noting that he was under the impression that CVS already separates its pharmacy and retail operations for legal and insurance reasons. “Two separate entrances, two different tenant spaces, fire separations, that sort of thing,” he added.
Mr. Benincasa said CVS officials had already planned to “split” the store into two entities when they approached him. “They know the code,” he said, referring to representatives of the chain.
On Monday night, Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera told Bridgehampton CAC meeting attendees that she anticipates CVS will file its build-out application, the plan for the building’s interior, with the Planning Board in the near future. But she also stressed that the decision to allow CVS to split into two separate corporations, allowing it to occupy the entire building, will fall squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Benincasa.
At the same meeting, riled-up crowd members expressed their opposition to the project and CAC Co-Chair Nancy Walter-Yvertes vowed to hire an attorney to “do something artful and slow down the process.”
“They are very excited and very pleased to be at that spot,” Ms. Walter-Yvertes said, referring to CVS officials who had been working for some time to gain a foothold in the hamlet. “It is outrageous. Why should we welcome them with open arms? They want to sell trash, beach balls and lawn chairs, not treat people.”
Ms. Scalera was firm in that there has been nothing official filed with the town yet, noting that no one at the town level, beyond Mr. Benincasa, knew about the project before CAC members began to ask questions.
Over the past month, members of the community group have met with Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Ms. Scalera to discuss the rumors that CVS was close to signing a lease in the area. All told the CAC that they had no knowledge of such plans.
Then, on March 8, after calling a listed number for BNB Ventures, the CAC was contacted by the regional director of real estate for CVS, Dave Berman, offering to meet and discuss their plans.
“Why did it take six weeks to get a confirmation that CVS was a proposed tenant?” asked Nancy Walter-Yvertes, chair of the Bridgehampton CAC. “And why did it come from them and not Town Hall? The town is either stonewalling us, or CVS is working on its own in a vacuum.”
According to Ms. Walter-Yvertes and other CAC members in attendance at the meeting with Mr. Berman, he presented two mock-ups, complete with drawn-in shutter designs and the specific signage that will be placed in front of the store.
According to the design copies, a “non-prototypical CVS layout” is planned, with rear and front entrances, two floors and a 26-square-foot stand-alone CVS sign outside. The plans also indicate that the project is “self-developed,” or otherwise coming from the CVS corporation itself, not someone trying to open a franchise. Several years ago, CVS attempted and failed to branch out in neighboring Sag Harbor, an effort that spurred a broad rewriting of the village’s zoning and building codes.
Mr. Collins said last Thursday that he had not seen official plans for the property, but noted that it had been “flagged” by the Building Department’s computers after rumors began to spread that CVS was close to signing a lease. He said he did that to ensure that inspectors were reminded about the 5,000-square-foot limit on store sizes.
In 2011, designs for the building on file with the town called for the structure to house between three and six tenants. The top floor was originally pitched to house three “affordably priced apartments,” according to CAC members, and the first floor was to be two or three small shops or seasonal boutiques. In all, six different uses were permitted.
None of those uses, however, called for a single tenant to occupy the entire building,
When asked during Monday night’s meeting about Mr. Benincasa’s comments that different corporation names would technically satisfy the law and allow CVS to open, Ms. Scalera said she thought “common sense would prevail.”
“If you are violating the spirit and intent of the law, I think the building inspector would see through that,” she said. “Logically, I don’t think that’d fly, but it is in his purview. He might seek counsel, he might not.”
Someone in the crowd interrupted her, asking, “Does Benincasa know our concerns?” Ms. Scalera nodded in response and noted that Mr. Benincasa’s determination could always be appealed to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
Joining Ms. Scalera from the town on Monday was Janice Scherer, the principal planner for the town’s Long Range Planning Division. Ms. Scherer told the crowd, which was in favor of passing a town law that outlaws chain stores, that the 5,000-square-foot limit now in place in the village-business zoned area is designed to already do that.
“I can assure you that no one has known about CVS all this time,” Ms. Scherer added. “These companies are very quiet about things. Maybe someone somewhere knew [about it], but certainly not in the planning division.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Kanavos said he was unable to recall whether the lease with CVS was contingent on the firm securing the required permits to actually open in Bridgehampton. He did note, however, that such a clause is typical in most commercial development leases.
“At the end of the day, I live in the community, I understand the concerns of the community and I care tremendously about the East End,” Mr. Kanavos said. “I have been away and I truly didn’t realize the significance or scope of the CAC concerns, and I now plan on and look forward to meeting with them very soon. I would love to sit down, provide them with accurate, detailed information of the plans, and see if we can’t change their perspective.”
Mr. Kanavos went on to say that in his mind, the questions are more about the national chain than they are about the actual impact on the community, saying the pharmacy would “clearly fill a need,” and that the foot traffic would only help local merchants.
Staff writer Michael Wright contributed to this story.
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