Southampton Town Board Approves CPI And Canal Development Project - 27 East

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Southampton Town Board Approves CPI And Canal Development Project

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Cameron Nicholls's mother Stephanie  spoke at the vigil in front of more than 50 people who came to honor Cameron’s memory. DANA SHAW

Cameron Nicholls's mother Stephanie spoke at the vigil in front of more than 50 people who came to honor Cameron’s memory. DANA SHAW

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman addresses the school board at the November 29 Tuckahoe Common School District meeting.  DANA SHAW

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman addresses the school board at the November 29 Tuckahoe Common School District meeting. DANA SHAW

Dancers Chloe Gavalas, Brooke Bierfriend, JanieMae Westergard and Rachael Pepper will attend prestigious ballet intensives this summer. DANA SHAW

Dancers Chloe Gavalas, Brooke Bierfriend, JanieMae Westergard and Rachael Pepper will attend prestigious ballet intensives this summer. DANA SHAW

The permanent memorial for Cameron Nicholls on the East Quogue Village Green.  DANA SHAW

The permanent memorial for Cameron Nicholls on the East Quogue Village Green. DANA SHAW

The oldest, one-room schoolhouse in Southampton Town was built in Red Creek around 1850 and now resides on the grounds of the Southampton Historical Museum.  DANA SHAW

The oldest, one-room schoolhouse in Southampton Town was built in Red Creek around 1850 and now resides on the grounds of the Southampton Historical Museum. DANA SHAW

author on Jan 13, 2015

The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved a two-part development plan on Tuesday afternoon that authorizes a broad redevelopment of land on both sides of the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays.

Before a packed house of mostly Hampton Bays residents, watched over by three Southampton Town Police officers, members of the board, one by one, defended their decision to support the proposal, years in the making, to renovate and expand the dilapidated Canoe Place Inn just west of the canal and also construct 37 townhouses on its eastern bank, saying it will be an important economic boost to Hampton Bays.

All five board members nodded to desires by Hampton Bays residents to see the century-old former inn and nightclub building saved, to the expected environmental benefits of state-of-the-art waste treatment systems on both properties, and to the hoped-for economic injection that the opening of a major catering facility, with lodging space, would bring to Hampton Bays.

Some, however, also acknowledged some of the less popular aspects of the project, while saying the negatives were still better than potential alternatives should the proposal be rejected.

“The townhouse aspect of the project may not be ideal, but rest assured that public input during the review process has had enormous impact,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. “I believe this is an opportunity to honor and celebrate the rich history of Hampton Bays, while giving it a shot in the arm. Hampton Bays deserves this kind of economic investment, and I’m proud to support it.”

Some residents stormed out of the meeting room at Town Hall when Hampton Bays resident Councilman Stan Glinka voiced his support for the project, making it clear that the project would receive the required four votes, a supermajority, to approve the planned development district, the much-debated planning tool the town has employed to change zoning to permit specific development projects.

“This has been a very difficult decision,” said Mr. Glinka, a former president of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce. “One comment that resonates with me was … from a gentleman who went down Main Street in Hampton Bays on the Fourth of July and said it was no different than going on a weekend in February.

“The business community has been the driving force of Hampton Bays, but … two mainstay businesses have closed their doors in the past few months,” he added, referring to the restaurants Squiretown and Villa Tuscano. “Approving this will … set the stage to bring future development to Hampton Bays.”

In the final round of public comments on the project before the vote, opposition from residents of the town’s most populous hamlet continued to be robust. Those who spoke primarily lamented the loss of the eastern shore of the canal as a point of public access, despite repeated exhortations by the board members and supporters of the project that such access was only by virtue of patronizing waterfront restaurants. Some pointed to a petition circulated and signed by more than 1,100 town residents in opposition to the plans.

A frequent argument by opponents throughout the public vetting process has been that the property along the eastern shore of the Shinnecock Canal would be a greater economic and cultural boon to Hampton Bays if it were developed with a mix of restaurants and shops, similar to Gosman’s Dock in Montauk, as numerous past and current planning studies have insisted should be employed there.

“This approval will be forever,” said Al Algieri, president of the East Quogue Civic Association. “Aesthetically, this is a disaster. Vote no, vote by the experts, and you’ll be doing something for the future of Hampton Bays, rather than giving something away.”

The approved plan will allow the developers, cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, to begin the long-awaited redevelopment of the canal area, some 10 years after purchasing the three properties targeted for the project. On the CPI property, the crumbling building will be largely scrapped and rebuilt in a likeness of its original design, as a 25-room inn and catering venue with a cluster of adjacent cottages and a 300-seat dining hall and restaurant. Across the canal, the 37 townhouse units will inhabit four buildings on the approximately 4.5-acre property. A third property, on the eastern side of North Road, immediately opposite the canal property, will house the underground wastewater treatment system for the townhouses.

It has been more than six years since the Rechlers’ unveiled their first development proposal for the properties, which called for razing of the CPI and constructing approximately 75 timeshares in its place. That plan drew an outpouring of criticism and appeals from local residents to preserve the CPI building.

“When I sat in your chair as supervisor … the original proposal was for a five-story timeshare building with a parking garage, and we told the Rechlers to take it back to the drawing board—it didn’t fly at all,” former Supervisor Patrick Heaney, now a legislative liaison for the Southampton Business Alliance, recalled at Tuesday’s meeting. “It is a credit that this long, protracted PDD review process has provided an opportunity for interaction with town officials, members of the public and the developer … We now have a proposal that … adds an important economic shoulder to the Hampton Bays business community.”

The project was tinkered with throughout the two-year review of the most recent incarnation. The number of townhouse units were reduced by three and the overall size of the buildings cut by nearly 20 percent. A public access corridor and parking area, and a 240-foot floating dock, were added to the southern edge of the property.

But opponents continued to rail against the general idea of the canal’s eastern shore being reserved for a few dozen wealthy homeowners.

“The benefits are practically nil,” said Dale Nichol, a resident and one of the most vocal critics of the project. “I”m hoping that at least two members of this council will … have the backbone to say no to a big project that has been long in review but isn’t right for Hampton Bays.”

Councilman Brad Bender sought to deflect some of the casting of the project in comparison to the Gosman’s Dock idea, noting that such a proposal has not been brought forward, and that the septic requirements for one would lack the state-of-the-art protections of the Rechlers’ proposal. In addition to the Nitrex wastewater system that will service the townhouses, the developers have agreed to install an underground barrier on the CPI property, between the buildings and the canal, to help filter out contaminants before they reach they bay.

“There is not an alternate plan before me with a Gosman’s Dock on the east side,” he said. “I believe the wastewater treatment and the town homes would have the least environmental impact on our waterways. I guarantee you, I will be watching closely to see that the environmental controls that we have been promised are in place.”

Mr. Bender also noted that in addition to the publicly accessible floating dock that was incorporated into the plans in response to critics’ concerns about privatization, there will be a covenant for a public access along the entirety of the property’s waterfront, contingent on the town securing a future access easement across the properties to the north, which are owned by the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority and by Suffolk County.

Opponents were nonplussed by the claimed benefits the project would represent, and pleaded, ultimately in vain, for board members to send it back to the drawing board once again.

“If you vote for this,” said Dorothy Donohue, a Hampton Bays resident, “you will be on the wrong side of the conservation movement, the wrong side of Hampton Bays’ density issues, the wrong side of Hampton Bays’ history, and the wrong side of Hampton Bays’ future.”

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