Southampton Village Business District Planned To Become More Vibrant Center Of Activity

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Southampton Village residents and visitors likely will see more apartments, more retail stores and restaurants, and possibly a new hotel or motel within the village business district in the next five to 10 years.

To accomplish all that, the Village Board on April 11 updated the village’s master plan—an overall guide to how village officials envision future development—by adopting changes to the zoning code and creating architectural guidelines for the village business district. An influx of activity, an increase in business, and the preservation of the village’s historic charm are the goals, officials said.

Essentially, the changes will set the tone for future developers and property owners who redevelop or expand their properties, and generate traffic flow into the district.

The new zoning, which is an update of zoning approved in the 1970s, will allow for upper-floor apartments over stores, limit office space on ground-floor levels in favor of retail space and restaurants, and give small hotel or motel owners a chance at opening up in the non-historic parts of the business district.

Additionally, the creation of architectural guidelines for downtown is geared toward keeping Southampton Village’s charming, small-town character intact, and does so by varying the size of buildings, roof lines and window placements, and shortening front yard setbacks of buildings from the streets, according to officials.

Village Mayor Mark Epley said this week that even though the village is one step closer to revitalizing the downtown area, there are still many pieces of the puzzle that need to come together, including developing a waste treatment plan and maximizing parking. The mayor said that in the future he envisions more restaurants, business owners staying open later, village residents living above storefronts and shopping down below, and a successful art and culture institution at the Southampton Center at 25 Jobs Lane, the former Parrish Art Museum building.

“These are pieces that are slowly developing that will merge together in the next five to 10 years that will really strengthen the village business district and the Village of Southampton,” he said on Monday. “I’m a strong believer that a community is only as healthy as its business district.”

According to Siamak Samii, chairman of the Village Planning Commission, which spent four years helping to develop the zoning code amendments and architectural guidelines, the changes are the equivalent to sowing a seed—even though people might not see the results of them right away, the next generation will.

He said the most important changes will found in the architecture of redeveloped buildings. “Box” retail shops like the CVS on Main Street and the Rite Aid on Nugent Street, which gained popularity in the mid-20th century and onward, will no longer be able to spring up in the village, he said. The new zoning promotes development more in line with the type of architecture found on Jobs Lane and Main Street by limiting building sizes and design.

He said the possibility of more apartments within the village business district is also very beneficial to the village’s well-being. Two decades ago, there were about 120 to 130 apartments in the village, but now there are about 22 units, according to Mr. Samii. “We’re going to basically bring residential life back into the heart of the village,” he said.

Mayor Epley said encouraging second-floor apartments will give property owners potential for a variety of uses for their buildings. Despite having more options, property owners would be barred from putting new office space on the ground floor of buildings. Instead, retail stores or restaurants would have to occupy those newly developed spaces.

Finally, a new motel or hotel outside of the historic village business district, along Windmill Lane or Nugent Street, for example, would bring more people and business into the village, they said. Both Mr. Samii and Mayor Epley said they’d like to see a new business like the Southampton Inn, which is on Hill Street, or the American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

Under the new law, a hotel developer could build only by gaining special exception approval from the village’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. Doing so would put the developer through a more rigorous approval process, according to Mr. Samii. Despite his insistence, there has been a push from the Southampton Association, a local citizens group, and other residents to change the zoning to require developers to gain a special permit, which means the Village Board would have final say on the project. There will be a public hearing about changing the law at a Village Board work session on Tuesday, May 21.

Mayor Epley said he is supportive of the change.

“The way I look at it, it will probably be a one-time project, and the trustees should be a part of that decision-making process, but the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals will carry the brunt of the load,” he said. “This gives everybody the opportunity to be involved with it.”

New apartments and a new hotel cannot exist without a wastewater management system in place, which is the next project for the Planning Commission. Mr. Samii said it was most important to get the zoning and design guidelines set before a sewage treatment plan is enacted in order to protect against overdevelopment.

In recent months, members of the Southampton Association have been concerned about introducing a hotel or motel into the village because they said they want to protect against big hotel chains and timeshares coming in. Under the new zoning, however, potential developers would have to face the village advisory boards and meet Suffolk County Department of Health Services sewage requirements.

Jay Diesing, the president of the Southampton Association, said as long as it is “done well,” a hotel or motel would be a nice addition to the village business district. Likewise, introducing more apartments into the village would create a more vibrant business district and possibly cause store owners to stay open a little later at night.

Mr. Diesing said the bottom line is to protect against overdevelopment, and he expects a few changes to the village code along the way—and so does the mayor.

“There are going to be things we’re going to find no matter how well we vet the process,” Mayor Epley said. “This upgrade to the master plan is a stepping-off point of downtown revitalization. I expect great things for the village.”

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