Southampton Town Considers Benefits Of Rezoning Some Motels

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Southampton Town planners are considering reversing some 1990s-era legislation and rezoning certain properties, in the hopes of eliminating motels that might disturb quiet neighborhoods or have been illegally converted into permanent residences.

As part of their still ongoing review, planners said they also want to encourage the owners of motels in the best-suited locations in the municipality to keep their units affordable for vacationers.

As part of the now four-year-old hotel/motel conversion study being conducted by the town’s land planning department, planners recently recommended to the Town Board that the code be amended to bar the conversion of motels into condominiums in all commercial districts but encourage them in residential areas. Accompanying that recommendation, the planners also suggested that some commercial districts that currently allow hotels and motels, but are now in the middle of residential neighborhoods, be rezoned residential to allow their conversion into condominiums.

“One [recommendation] is to minimize the impacts of existing non-conforming uses in residential areas and to promote lodging uses where it is appropriate for the tourism industry,” Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins told Town Board members. “You have a 10,000-square-foot motel with 200-square-foot units in the middle of a single-family residential neighborhood … with 1,500-square-foot [houses] on half-acre lots.”

The town had originally adopted a similar approach in 1981, when it first allowed motels to be converted to condominiums in residential districts but banned the conversions in commercial ones. But in 1992 the board, seeking to encourage motel owners who had let their units become permanent residences to upgrade their facilities, amended the code to allow conversions in commercial districts. But the result was a gradual loss of transient units important to the resort nature of the community.

Planners said that 691, or 62 percent, of the remaining motels and hotels fall within the town’s commercial districts. They said that by barring conversions to condos in those districts, and enforcing the statute, the town would ensure that a substantial number of those units would remain as resort lodging. The town boasts an estimated 1,000 hotel and motel units.

But through the rezoning of some districts, primarily in Hampton Bays, some older motels would be targeted for conversion to condo units.

Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi asked planners if eliminating all such vacation units was a wise idea, particularly along some quiet waterfronts that could be seen as highly desirable for vacationers.

On Gardners Lane, near Penny Pond in Hampton Bays, a handful of properties originally developed as motels would be made non-conforming if the area’s zoning was to be changed from resort business to residential, as proposed by planners. Mr. Collins said the surrounding area primarily features single-family homes and it would make more sense to encourage the motel and cottage owners to convert their units to owner-occupied condos.

Many of the units are not being used as short-term transient lodging already, board members acknowledged.

But Mr. Nuzzi said it might be better to find a way to encourage the owners of the businesses to shift back to transient uses, even if it means the town must give them incentives to make those rentals attractive again.

“The idea is not to privatize the waterfront,” he said. “Right now the waterfront there is technically open to the public through these motels. These are waterfront hotels—do we want to make them non-conforming just because there is half-acre housing in the area?”

Planner Janice Scherer noted that the bulk of motel units in that neighborhood are not operating under their intended purpose, explaining that they being used as apartments and being rented year-round. The illegal conversion of some of the motels, and the lack of enforcement by the town in fining those property owners for are violating the town code, has upset many residents of Hampton Bays.

“But is there a way to incentivize the owners to go back to [motels]?” Mr Nuzzi asked.

Mr. Collins said there might be a way to add overlays within the new residential zones for specific properties that the town may not see as particularly troublesome in a residential district, which would allow a hybrid of transient and permanent units.

Along with the question of where to allow the conversions, the recommendations from planners also look at reducing the impacts of the properties on the surrounding environment. Those options include reducing the amount of paving, requiring upgrades to septic systems and reducing the number of overall units by increasing the minimum allowable size of both condos and individual units.

It is not clear when the hotel/motel conversion study will be completed.

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