Southampton Village Planning Board members are questioning whether they acted too quickly in declaring that a plan to demolish a retail courtyard on Jobs Lane, to make way for a pair of two-story retail buildings, would have no real impact on the environment or the overall character of the village.
At a work session on Monday night, board members said they wanted to hear more from community members and discussed how long they should leave open a public hearing on the matter.
“I agree—it is a beautiful spot, and it does, in fact, add character to the village,” Planning Board member Roy Stevenson said, echoing what critics of the application have argued. “I have been thinking that perhaps we moved too fast. But at what point does SEQRA trump the property owner’s rights to make changes?”
SEQRA, or the State Environmental Quality Review Act, is an environmental review process mandated by state law. Board members gave a negative SEQRA declaration—ruling that no real environmental impact was expected—in July to East End Holdings LLC’s plan. It would remove the courtyard, which features a fountain, bench seating and six mostly vacant storefronts, and replace it with new construction featuring three storefronts situated on the lot line.
The project should be close to approval by this point, but instead has been in limbo after the board agreed to continue its public hearing, even after the SEQRA declaration was already made.
“This has been before us for over a year,” Board Chairman Alan McFarland said, “and we have kept it open to allow for the very interesting propositions made by the community that should be considered.”
Opponents of the proposal, including the Southampton Association, have called the design of the buildings generic and not matching the rest of the village’s rich architectural history, and maintained that removal of the courtyard would be a loss to the community—factors that should have been considered by the board in its SEQRA declaration.
Susan Madonia of Ann Madonia Antiques has said the proposed construction at 38-42 Jobs Lane could damage the foundation of her building, which shares a lot line with the property, as well as force her to move her electrical service system and brick up her second-floor windows, at “significant cost.” Mr. Stevenson agreed that the construction next door should not cost Ms. Madonia money.
Board members Pamela Gilmartin and Jayne Clare argued that there needs to be an end to the public hearing at some point.
“I don’t think we should keep it open forever,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “But I do think the facts are mis-constructed.”
“The problem is, [the opponents of the plan] think their opinions are fact,” Ms. Clare said.
Mr. McFarland went even further to suggest that maybe the Village Board should weigh in on matters that may impact the character of the village.
“We are not the designers of the village. We follow the codes that were set in 1927,” he said. “The trustees lead us and tell us what to do—we just weigh what may conflict with the code.”
After the meeting, Ms. Madonia, who was in attendance, returned to her store, where papers were scattered all over the top of a long antique dining room table. Much of the mail contained letters of support. One packet of papers was a petition with about 2,000 signatures, she said, of residents who were also troubled by the courtyard development plan next door.
“I don’t feel like there was any good news tonight,” Ms. Madonia said. “It feels like this is all just a formality. The board has already made up their minds. Watch. They’ll want to steamroll ahead after next week.”
The public hearing is expected to continue on Tuesday, September 4, at 5:30 p.m.
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