Glenn Hall walked up to the podium at the Southampton Village Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night—crutches in hand—to offer a different reason why he believes officials need to slow down before green-lighting the demolition of a retail courtyard on Jobs Lane, to make way for a pair of two-story retail buildings.
The proposal pitched by the property owner—currently listed as East End Holdings LLC—may not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Mr. Hall, the chairman of the East End Disabilities Group, a nonprofit organization.
Since 1990, the federal law, also referred to as the ADA, has acted as the civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in public and private spaces, and in all aspects of public life.
East End Holdings LLC’s attorney, Gil Flanagan, declined to comment on where his client’s application stood in the ADA approval process, saying he did not have the proper documentation on hand at the meeting. In Southampton Village, it is the Building Department’s responsibility to ensure that structures are ADA-compliant.
The Planning Board, which has been considering the application for nearly a year, took no action on Tuesday, agreeing to continue the public hearing on the project in October. The board has already ruled that the project won’t require an extensive environmental review, a decision that has prompted some residents to call for that ruling to be rescinded.
Mr. Hall said federal law requires that “60 percent of all access points must be ADA compliant.” The village’s environmental planning consultant, Kathy Eiseman, recalled from the Building Department’s notes that of the six rear entrances with access to a municipal parking lot, three are ADA compliant. The front three entrances on Jobs Lane don’t comply, and may not need to comply.
But Mr. Hall reminded the board that the law stipulates that ADA access must be in areas of “general circulation.” “That means the front doors!” he shouted, reprimanding the board.
Mr. Hall threatened to take the Planning Board to federal court if officials do not enforce federal and state disabilities law.
“It will not be built if it violates any laws,” Planning Board Chairman Alan McFarland replied.
Mr. Flanagan asked that the public hearing be closed on Tuesday but left open for written comments—a suggestion that was shot down.
He also responded to other concerns expressed by the public, including the unlikeliness that Southampton Town would purchase the property using the Community Preservation Fund, and that the three new storefronts would have a negative effect on Ann Madonia Antiques next door.
Mr. Flanagan attempted to dispel antiques store owner Susan Madonia’s concerns about the proposed construction at 38-42 Jobs Lane by informing her that the building won’t be any closer to her property than it is now, and that her electrical service system will not have to be moved.
The attorney also said that the courtyard, which was built in the 1970s, does not have historical significance, and that the redevelopment proposal is “consistent” with the character of the village.
“This is not a popularity contest,” Mr. Flanagan said. “What you should be guided by is the [village code]. What we have submitted is consistent with those principles.”
In a move that stunned many in the packed Village Board room, the Planning Board chairman agreed with the applicant’s counsel.
“We are not the Planning Board,” Mr. McFarland said. He said the Village Board is responsible for amending the code and planning for the future of the village, and that the Planning Board he sits on simply ensures that proposals adhere to those plans.
“You are the Planning Board. That is your job!” said Jeffrey Bragman, Ms. Madonia’s attorney. “Just because someone comes in with a plan that complies with zoning … doesn’t mean they get what they want.”
Mr. Bragman, who was elected to the East Hampton Town Board last year, said that the Planning Board did not adequately study the potential impacts the proposal would have on the environment and the character of the village under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA. He argued that the courtyard is an “aesthetic resource” and that the Planning Board hasn’t take the appropriate steps to shape the proposal to be consistent with that recognizable resource.
“You don’t need a law degree to know this is going to have an impact,” Mr. Bragman said.
He submitted a petition with 550 signatures asking the Planning Board to rescind its negative SEQRA declaration, which states that tearing down the courtyard and construction will have no impact.
Nevertheless, the board motioned to continue the public hearing, but not before one Planning Board member, Roy Stevenson, echoed the panel’s overarching concern: At what point does SEQRA trump the property owner’s right to make changes?
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