Southampton Town Board discusses plans for Jackson Avenue

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Plans to construct a state-of-the-art municipal complex on Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays, a project that’s expected to cost tens of millions of dollars to complete, are once again being discussed at Southampton Town Hall.

The final report on the project, prepared by the Connecticut-based architect Roger Ferris, was presented to Town Board members at a work session on Friday. Work on the blueprints for the proposed complex began in earnest in 2005, though last week’s meeting marked the first time that they were discussed for the benefit of the new Town Board, according to Town Engineer George Mootoo.

Also involved in drafting the report were Hauppauge-based consultants Cashin Associates, 7 Group based out of Pennsylvania, New York- and London-based Arup Sustainable Engineers, and Sandpebble Builders in Southampton. To date, the town has spent nearly $500,000 on the Jackson Avenue analysis, a study that grew out of a series of townwide public forums.

According to Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, the Town Board will likely adopt a “concept” plan for Jackson Avenue in the coming weeks, basically agreeing to the general vision for the complex.

Mr. Mootoo said it would be naïve to think that the plans would not evolve over time, but that the intent of planners was to stay within the footprint already stamped on the property. The site now features buildings for the Southampton Town Police Department, Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Highway Department.

Mr. Mootoo estimated that the cost of constructing the complex at $75 million and noted that it could take a decade to build.

According to planners, the project will be completed in two phases, the first being the construction of maintenance buildings, garages for public safety vehicles and a general cleanup of the site, including the removal of debris, obsolete equipment and abandoned vehicles. Mr. Mootoo said this phase could be completed in three years at a cost of $20 million. The larger scale work, including the construction of a new Town Police station and Justice Court, would take place during the second and more expensive phase. The layout also includes the addition of nature trails and the expansion of nearby Red Creek Park.

The intent behind the proposed Jackson Avenue complex has been to alleviate overcrowding of municipal facilities in Southampton Village, in particular the Justice Court, which is currently operating out of the basement in Town Hall. This temporary location presents problems addressed by the Jackson Avenue complex. One such problem is parking, but a bigger issue is the transportation of prisoners to the court, which is located near Southampton Elementary School. Plans for the new court include an underground tunnel leading from the court to the nearby police station.

With its central location and proximity to the three major thoroughfares of Sunrise Highway, Montauk Highway and Route 24, Jackson Avenue is the perfect spot for a municipal facility, according to town planners.

But the estimated dollar amounts concerned Town Board member Chris Nuzzi, who said he wasn’t convinced that the town should be hitting taxpayers with such an astronomical cost. Though he praised town planners for their visionary design, Mr. Nuzzi said he was apprehensive over the viability of spending $75 million—a conservative estimate at this point—on the project.

“I just don’t know if spending that amount of money on a project is in the best interest of the taxpayers,” he said.

Ms. Kabot said she also felt a bit of sticker shock, stating that the town had to strike a balance between sustainability and fiscal responsibility. “Oftentimes it makes financial sense to construct ‘green’ facilities,” Ms. Kabot said. “But on this project we may not be able to have everything that’s being proposed.”

If the complex were to be built as currently envisioned, it would be the first of its kind in terms of cutting-edge environmental technology and sustainability. Two wind turbines, at an estimated cost of $5 million each, along with solar panels, would provide the required energy needed to run the facility. Man-made wetlands would be used to process waste water while rainwater would be recycled to minimize storm runoff, increase on-site infiltration and reduce the amount of water needed for the facility. Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said the layout for Jackson Avenue was the “way of the future.”

Mr. Nuzzi said he understood the need for the Jackson Avenue complex, especially for the new court, but said he would like to have a discussion to see if the town could do more with less. “This is a time to constrain spending,” he said, “not to ask residents to pay even more.”

Instead of building what Mr. Nuzzi referred to as a mega-complex, the councilman said he would like to explore renovating what’s already in place on the property and scaling back some of the more ambitious goals. “I just don’t see why we have to spend that much money to build what the town needs, especially since we already own the property,” he said.

Mr. Nuzzi said the objectives of the planners were worthy and that the town should strive for sustainability, though he pointed out that there should be a middle ground. “We don’t have an endless supply of money,” he said, “and this isn’t our only capital project.” Another anxiety of the councilman’s was digging that far into the pockets of residents to construct systems that have not yet been tested. “I just don’t think it’s a responsible use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

As of now, the Suffolk County Health Department has not signed off on the proposed waste system of constructed wetlands and Mr. Nuzzi said he didn’t want to approve anything, not even a conceptual plan, until it has been sanctioned by the county.

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