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Nov 19, 2013 4:18 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Civic Wants Less Development Along Shinnecock Canal

Nov 22, 2013 2:02 PM

Hampton Bays Civic Association members discussed alternatives to the Canoe Place Inn redevelopment proposal Monday night, a plan that is tied to permitting residential development on the east side of the Shinnecock Canal, and one common desire stood out: they all would prefer less development.

The conclusion is significant in that it represents a significant shift in the membership’s collective opinion regarding the proposal, a Maritime Planned Development District that calls for 40 townhouses to be built on the east side of the canal and the renovation of Canoe Place Inn so it can be reopened as an inn and banquet hall. After originally being on board, civic members joined the ranks of other hamlet groups in what appears to be a growing objection to the plan being put forth by developers Gregg and Mitchell Rechler of R Squared Development.

After hearing informational presentations Monday about the project, the estimated five dozen civic members in attendance broke up into smaller groups to come up with potential alternative uses for the properties. Once all 34 suggestions were documented on large sheets of paper inside the Hampton Bays Middle School cafetorium, members were each given 15 stickers to place next to the suggestions they felt were most important for the Southampton Town Board and developers to consider before moving forward. Last month, the Rechlers requested, and secured, an adjournment from the Town Board so they could review the community feedback they had received from the first two hearings on their application. They are set to go before the Town Board for a third time on Tuesday, December 10.

Once the stickers were counted it became clear that members would prefer to see all development focused on the western property, where the neglected Canoe Place Inn now sits, while allowing the eastern property, where the empty Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse restaurants are located, to be redeveloped as some kind of public recreational space. Members were also in agreement that the town should not sign off on the proposed Maritime Planned Development District (MPDD), stating that the Rechlers should only be allowed to build what is permitted under current zoning. And that if a residential component is eventually approved, members agree that its wastewater filtration system should be built on-site—regardless of which side of the canal the complex is constructed. Current plans call for it to be built on a smaller property that is located to the east of the land targeted for the townhouse, and in a residential community.

As of right, the Rechlers, if they chose to demolish the Canoe Place Inn, can replace it with a 49,187-square-foot, 338-seat restaurant. If they opt to demolish the two restaurant buildings on the east side of the canal, they can replace them with either a 17,176-square-foot, 238-seat restaurant or a 15-room motel, while a smaller property just to the east, now targeted to house the wastewater facility for the 40 townhouses, can accommodate either a 21,032-square-foot, 160-seat restaurant or a 10-room motel. Those potential uses are outlined in the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Rechlers and on file with the town.

“The developers can do whatever they want with the property, just don’t change the zoning—that’s it,” said Richard Robertson of Hampton Bays who attended Monday night’s meeting. He added that, in his opinion, the Rechlers haven’t provided a sufficient reason to justify a change of zoning and that he would prefer that their plans adhere to the town’s master plan.

“They can do what they want within the zoning ... they can build what the zoning calls for,” he continued. “They don’t deserve to have it changed.”

Other priorities highlighted by civic members include the revitalization of the Canoe Place Inn and the potential outright preservation of all three properties by the town using proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund. Town officials have never publicly discussed the possibility of buying any of three properties owned by the Rechlers.

But the draft environmental impact statement filed with the MPDD states that both the Canoe Place Inn property and the easternmost parcel, the latter being the land that would house the proposed wastewater facility, were identified in 2005 as properties for the town to target with its CPF. The document also notes that the acquisition of the easternmost property should be of the highest priority to preserve community character. The environmental impact statement was released a year after the Rechlers acquired the property.

Group members, meanwhile, intend to share the group’s most popular suggestions with the Town Board prior to next month’s hearing, according to Hampton Bays Civic Association President Marion Boden. Prior to granting the adjournment, certain town officials, including Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, speculated the Rechlers might come back with an altered proposal.

Jim Morgo, a spokesman for the Rechlers, said Tuesday that some civic members might get their wish. He noted that the developers have grown tired of the constant pushback they’ve encountered since acquiring the properties in 2004, making the idea of building as-of-right more appealing to them, especially with the millions of dollars in consulting fees already paid out.

While he declined to speculate further on what the Rechlers intend to do, Mr. Morgo did note that drafting a new proposal is “just not going to happen.”

Mr. Morgo also said he is uncertain if the Rechlers will be finished processing all the feedback they’ve received in time for the hearing on December 10, suggesting that another adjournment could be in the cards. He added that there are many people, namely those who have been involved in the process since the beginning, who would understand if the Rechlers opt to withdraw their application.

“I literally get two or three calls a week saying, ‘Don’t give up this investment, it’s important, but if you do decide to, we understand,’” Mr. Morgo said. “I get that all the time.”

Hampton Bays resident Lynn Murcott said she, like others in the organization, has changed her mind about the proposal in recent months. She said she and her sister, Gail, supported it at first because it would permit the restoration of the Canoe Place Inn. She said their opinions changed once plans for the townhouse development came more into focus, with blueprints and models made.

“We want the inn restored,” Lynn Murcott said, explaining her original stance. “Why should we go to the North Fork to get married or anything like that? We’ve lost too much already.”

But while both sisters agreed that a revitalized Canoe Place Inn is important to Hampton Bays for both economic and sentimental reasons, 40 townhouses is too great a price to pay for it.

“When I saw it in the high school auditorium, it was beautiful—the restorations, the garden in the back,” Lynn Murcott said, referring to restoration plans for the inn. “But then all of a sudden you get slapped with 40 townhouses over there.

“We very seldom changes our minds about things, but it is something we have been swayed on because we don’t want to lose [canal access] forever,” she added.

Hampton Bays Civic Association Vice President Bruce King said he was not surprised that some members’ opinions have shifted, though he still personally supports the Rechlers’ vision and their desire to bring some sort of development to the hamlet.

“Everyone wants change until it is about to happen,” Mr. King said.

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