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Nov 19, 2014 10:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Critics Say Tuckahoe Center Should Be Written Off In County Road 39 Discussion

Nov 19, 2014 10:46 AM

Residents and officials of Southampton Village last week criticized Southampton Town’s recently released planning study of the County Road 39 corridor for not implicitly rejecting the idea of placing a King Kullen shopping center on a stretch of the road that fringes the village.

The more than 200-page study dedicates just two pages to direct discussion of the proposed 58,000-square-foot Tuckahoe Center shopping development, anchored by a 40,000-square-foot King Kullen supermarket, and it does not specifically recommend against the Town Board granting a change of zone to allow for the shopping center. Critics have seized on that sidestepping of judgment on the proposal as the board reviews the corridor study, which otherwise primarily focuses on guidelines for the design of buildings and property layouts for the road’s commercial properties.

The study notes that County Road 39 is already maxed out in its capacity to accommodate the tens of thousands of cars that flow through it each day. Consultants have also warned the town that there is no more space to expand the road and that, as the region’s population grows, there will not be room to accommodate more traffic on the road.

To that end, the study recommends that the commercial properties on the highway remain focused on low-traffic-generating business, like appliance and furniture and auto retailers and recreational facilities.

Residents have said that a destination business development, like a supermarket shopping center, would add too much traffic to the road, exacerbating already bad delays and causing more spillover onto residential streets of the village.

“County Road 39 was built as a bypass around Southampton Village for people headed to points east and north, but the village and our residential streets have become the bypass for County Road 39,” Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said to the board during a public hearing on November 12. “The more you develop it, the more people are going to spill onto Hill Street and roll into our residential areas.”

On the broadest scale, the study recommends that the road’s “highway business” zoning designations be left largely in place. It suggests that certain sections be rezoned to “highway office,” primarily to allow for fewer industrial-looking buildings where residential neighborhoods begin to intertwine with commercial lots. The study nods to the town’s Comprehensive Plan recommendations that acknowledge the potential need for rezoning to allow for shopping centers as residential development expands outward from the hamlet centers. The study report offers no subjective analysis of the proposal, other than to remind the Town Board of its role in judging whether need warrants allowing a zone change at the Tuckahoe Center property.

But village officials and others who have stridently opposed the Tuckahoe Center proposal see the acknowledgment of the shopping center allowance and references to market studies suggesting a need for a grocery store somewhere on the road as something of an endorsement, particularly in contrast to the study’s otherwise clear stance that the thoroughfare’s traffic and development patterns demand that low-volume business remain the focus of the corridor’s commercial enterprises.

“I think this zone change contradicts the entire study and undermines what has been put in place here,” Village Trustee Nancy McGann said. “Highway business was put in place as a low-trip factor. A shopping center is high-trip factor. It is most unfortunate that you would consider a change of zone. The village will do everything in its power to stop it.”

A market study of the need for grocery stores conducted by the village last year identified a need for some 25,000 square feet of additional grocery stores in and around Southampton. The consultant who conducted the study offered the advice that additional grocery stores in the village would actually help business at the existing grocers, as well as at other businesses. But the consultant, Robert Gibbs, also said that if a grocery store were to be placed on the highway outside the village, especially at the western side of its boundary, it would rob the village’s downtown of hundreds of shoppers, hurting business at all of its shops.

The Tuckahoe Center proposal has been dormant for more than two years, awaiting the release of the County Road 39 corridor study, but remains a pending application for a change of zone on slightly more than 8 acres, from highway business to shopping center.

Developer Robert Morrow and his partners have pitched the project as a needed outlet for residents of the outlying areas of Tuckahoe, Shinnecock Hills and Water Mill who currently have to travel into Southampton Village’s congested downtown, or trek 15 miles or more to supermarkets in Hampton Bays or Bridgehampton. They have suggested that the shopping center could actually result in a lightening of traffic on County Road 39 as a whole.

The pitch seems not to have swayed the strident opposition from Tuckahoe residents. Even some of those who served as citizen members of the committee that helped draft the County Road 39 study have made it clear that the Tuckahoe Center is not something they see the study as supporting, regardless of its acknowledgments.

“It says, from what I read, let’s keep County Road 39 a gateway, it’s not a shopping destination,” said Bonnie Geobert, chairwoman of the Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee. “I read this study as saying, let’s keep things to scale. Commercial sprawl along 39 must be curtailed, yes it should, but I reject that it should be replaced by commercial concentration.”

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