The Southampton Town Board will bring the debate over a proposed Canoe Place Inn maritime planned development district to a close next week after years of public discourse when it puts the matter to a vote at its regular board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, January 13.
The redevelopment plan for the old Canoe Place Inn property—presented by cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler of R Squared LLC—has gone through various states of fluctuation and stagnation since they first proposed to replace the derelict inn with 75 timeshares in 2006. The current iteration calls for the complete restoration of the inn, along with the construction of 37 townhouses on approximately 4.5 acres along the eastern bank of the Shinnecock Canal.
The Rechlers must convince a supermajority, or four out of five Town Board members, to vote in favor of their application to secure the change of zone that they need to execute it. Three votes means the measure fails.
The board will weigh the costs of changing the zoning on several parcels—namely, permitting dense housing along the waterfront that is now intended for commercial use—against the public benefits that the Rechlers are pitching. They include fixing up the Canoe Place Inn and reopening it as a catering hall, conference center and inn; installing a publicly accessible 250-foot-long floating dock along the east side of the canal; installing an underground nitrogen-filtering barrier on the west side of the canal; donating land just east of North Road to the town; and providing $300,000 to improve the town-owned Shinnecock Canal Park on the west bank of the canal.
The special zoning also allowed the town to require the installation of a state-of-the-art Nitrex wastewater system to service the townhouses on an adjoining property to the east of the canal. If the property were developed under existing zoning, cesspools would have been permitted.
Opinions have been split between members of the public and local governing boards. On December 3, the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which reviews developments of significant regional impact, approved of the Rechlers’ plan by a vote of 11-1; on the other hand, five of the seven members of the Southampton Town Planning Board voted not to endorse the plan. Residents of Hampton Bays and Shinnecock Hills have also expressed contrary points of view on the project in recent months.
The 5.65-acre Canoe Place Inn property once housed the first inn on Long Island, which was constructed between 1635 and 1640 and housed British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, as well as other dignitaries, before burning down in 1921. The current building was constructed in 1922 and continued to serve the East End as an inn for decades before transitioning to a nightclub toward the end of the 20th century.
In their application, the Rechlers are proposing to renovate the building into a 20-room inn with a 350-person catering hall. It also would feature a 70-seat restaurant with a 20-seat bar and 120 outdoor seats. On the second property, which sits just east of the canal, the Rechlers would build 37 townhouses split between seven buildings, a 1,900-square-foot clubhouse, an outdoor pool, and a private marina. The third parcel, a 2.68-acre lot across North Road from the townhouse site, would house the wastewater treatment facility to service the townhouses.
The maritime planned development district was crafted, in part, in response to public outcry against the Rechlers’ plan to tear down the Canoe Place Inn from residents who consider the building to be historically significant, though it has never been dubbed a landmark. Though the developers have modified their plan multiple times over the years, addressing specific community concerns, such as density issues and potential nitrogen loading in the bays, many hamlet residents say they still oppose the plan, stating that the town is giving up too much for the suggested public benefits.
Jim Morgo, a spokesman for R Squared, said the Rechlers feel as if they’ve addressed every issue within reason and made as many concessions as possible. If the Town Board votes down the application on Tuesday, the Rechlers will not submit another proposal for a planned development district, Mr. Morgo said—which means they could opt to develop all three properties based on existing zoning, with no input from the Town Board.
“They’ve made incredible adjustments to the proposal, and I can’t see them making any more,” Mr. Morgo said. “The process seemed never-ending, but in the end it was important because the project got better thanks to feedback from the community in the Town Board.But this thing has been going on since 2010—four and a half years is enough.”
As of right, the Rechlers can knock down the Canoe Place Inn and construct a 49,187-square-foot, 338-seat restaurant and, possibly, a motel. Similarly, they have the option of building either a restaurant or a two-story motel along the eastern shore of the canal, and another smaller motel or restaurant on the lot now sited for the wastewater treatment facility.
Mr. Morgo said the Rechlers are not sure what they will do if the board rejects their application, though he did note that they would pursue an option that is currently available to them.
“I think that’s what they’d do,” he said, “either they’d build as of right or have someone else build as of right. I don’t think anyone who has followed this would say that’s unreasonable. But, unquestionably, the PDD is a better use than what would be built as of right.”
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