‘First Blush’ Of Questions About Proposed Senior Community In Amagansett

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A grand plan to create a market-rate, environmentally sustainable community for people 55 and older in Amagansett made its debut before the East Hampton Town Planning Board last week.

The review is in its infancy, and an initial Planning Department report pointed to a variety of concerns, and Planning Board members had a wealth of questions.

Called 555, the proposal envisions 63 cottages and 26 apartments on 23.5 acres north of Montauk Highway, between Bunker Hill Road and a former restaurant just east of the Amagansett IGA. A combination of three tracts, the land includes the Principi family’s former Oceanview Farm and wraps around and behind the V&V service station.

A fieldhouse, tennis courts, fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, decorative windmill, gardens, greenhouse, pond and three open greens would be connected by walkways in what the architect, Jacquelin Robertson, described as a beautiful, exercise-friendly community for people who still have “an enormous amount of energy,” creating a place where they could spend the later decades of their lives without worry.

A nurse would be on duty 24 hours, he told the board, and people could walk to Amagansett’s Main Street as well as to the post office, grocery store, train station and Hampton Jitney stop.

The average price of a unit in the cooperative would be $1.3 million, said Francis P. Jenkins III, one of the property’s new owners, but one out of every 10 units would be set aside as affordable housing. Because the proposed number of living spaces exceeds what existing zoning would allow, the developers have asked the Town Board to create a new designation—for senior housing, without an “affordable” qualifier—to make the project possible.

Assistant Planning Director JoAnne Pahwul summed up a 17-page preliminary site plan evaluation: “The Planning Department finds that the project would eliminate scenic and rural vistas and result in the loss of 100 percent of prime agricultural soils found on the parcel,” she said. She added that it would result in “the densest density within the town” and would be inconsistent with several goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

“Additionally, in the Planning Department’s opinion, a community need or benefit for the project has not been demonstrated,” her report said.

Putnam Bridge, the developers, would not have to set aside 70 percent of prime agricultural soil for preservation as they would with an open space subdivision plan, Ms. Pawhul explained. That is because the application is for a site plan, and the development would be cooperatively, rather than individually, owned.

“If you have bypassed that, you have bypassed a very, very big hurdle,” Planning Board member Patrick Schutte told Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Robertson at a meeting on May 15.

Part of the land is on the town’s wish list for preservation using the Community Preservation Fund.

Mr. Jenkins focused on the need for senior housing in East Hampton, saying that the notion that affluent seniors “should be ignored is implausible.” The living community would offer older residents a chance to stay in East Hampton instead of taking a traditional path to Florida or staying in homes that have increased in value but outlived their practicality, he said.

He suggested that it was time for the town code to evolve from an open space-centered document to one focusing on as yet unmet needs for businesses, workers and seniors—a point echoed by Richard Whalen, a former town attorney who submitted the proposed senior-housing zoning designation to the town on behalf of the developers in March.

If non-government-subsidized senior housing is needed in East Hampton Town, Mr. Jenkins went on, then the next question would be how it should look in terms of location, services and density.

Planning Board members had plenty of questions on those points, the last one in particular, and many others. They asked who would be able to afford the units, whether assisted living was the plan, how the affordable units would work, whether the proximity of the buildings made them unsafe, and whether the development would serve the community as a whole. Most seemed to favor limited access by Bunker Hill Road, and most expressed a desire to preserve the field view rather than block it with privet or buildings. While they seemed to like the idea of the proposed net-zero energy scheme, they wanted to know more about a proposed sewage treatment system.

On the plus side, several praised the design of the community and seemed relatively secure that the project would be a gain rather than a loss in property taxes.

Planning Board member Diana Weir said the location was a rare spot where a “walkable community” was still an option in East Hampton. Relative to senior communities in Brookhaven Town or Peconic Landing in Greenport, which she called “beautiful,” the proposed 555 development was fairly small, she said.

“First blush is, the density is going to be an issue,” she said, also naming coverage and a number of other issues.

“I agree with a lot,” Ms. Weir said, “but I think this has a long way to go.”

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