Southampton Town officials said this week that they are willing to work with the owners of a Hampton Bays motel—which has operated as a homeless shelter for the past two years and, prior to that, as an illegal apartment complex—to explore the possibility of redeveloping the property so it can serve as legal, year-round housing.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town could be open to the possibility of permitting a septic system upgrade at the Hidden Cove Motel on West Tiana Road, a move that could allow the 33 motel rooms to be rented as year-round apartments or condominiums in the future. The town has been conducting a study to better understand the impact of such conversions over the past five years, and Ms. Throne-Holst said she expects a draft to be complete later this summer.
As part of the study, she explained, the town is examining where it could be beneficial for certain motels to be converted to year-round residences, and how it can assist the owners of other struggling motels whose businesses are located in areas where the town would like to see them succeed.
Town records list LAML Realty as the owners of the Hidden Cove Motel. Brian Phelps, the manager of the property, said last week that the owners were still undecided about the property’s future. “We’re receptive to anything that makes financial sense and is good for the community,” he said.
The Suffolk County Department of Social Services has operated the motel as a shelter for the past two years, drawing protest from the town, which alleges that such a year-round use does not comply with town zoning. Prior to that, most of the motel’s rooms had been rented out to tenants who were utilizing the units as year-round apartments, a situation that alarmed the town and some hamlet residents who do not think the motel’s aging septic system can handle the increased capacity.
Earlier this month, Ms. Throne-Holst and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman announced that the homeless shelter would close by September 30, leaving many in the community to wonder what the owners have planned for the motel in the fall. John O’Neill, the acting commissioner of the Suffolk County DSS, notified Community Housing Innovations, a nonprofit organization that oversees 15 shelters in Suffolk County, including the one at Hidden Cove, said his department would discontinue using the site in the fall. Mr. Schneiderman said the move was partially the result of a county effort to house homeless families near their home school districts.
Ms. Throne-Holst added that when she met with Mr. O’Neill in recent weeks to discuss the closure of the homeless shelter, she agreed to assist the owners in bringing the motel into compliance with the town code so history does not repeat itself.
Robert Liner, a founding member of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, a civic group that also protested the shelter, said the motel’s septic system cannot handle the wastewater that results from year-round, long-term usage. The result is nutrient loading of the neighboring bays, which disrupts the marine ecosystem, he and others contend.
Mr. Liner, who lives near the motel, said he is concerned that the owners will go back to renting out the rooms as apartments once the shelter closes, an action that is not permitted by the town and which burdens the hamlet and Hampton Bays School District. “I’m definitely concerned [about] that because it’s a method of generating more business than a seasonal business would generate,” he said.
“On a going-forward basis, the motel has to be used as a motel, as required by applicable town laws, for transient use—not for 365-days-a-year use,” he continued. “The laws were created to be followed, not to be circumvented. Hopefully, the owner understands that now and will not try to utilize the facility as a 365-day-a-year multiple dwelling.”
Mr. Liner added that his organization’s opposition to the shelter was in no way discriminatory of the residents who stayed there.
A 39-year-old man who has lived near the Hidden Cove Motel for the past two years, and requested that his name not be published, said the shelter did not disturb the neighborhood. He added that he feared for the safety of the shelter residents who often walked along West Tiana Road, which has no sidewalks and a narrow shoulder.
He also said that the Southampton Town Police were called to the site frequently before it opened as a homeless shelter.
Ms. Throne-Holst has stated that the town believes the owners were renting the units as apartments before DSS took over and evicted the remaining tenants to open a shelter. There are no records, however, on file at Southampton Town Justice Court stating that the owners were ever cited by the town for the alleged violations.
David Betts, chief code enforcement officer for the town, referred all questions to the Southampton Town attorneys.
When reached this week, Assistant Town Attorney Carl Benincasa said it was unclear if the motel owners were ever fined for illegally renting the motel’s units as apartments. He added that the town would be vigilant in watching for future violations of the town code.
“We’ll absolutely always have an eye on this and every hotel and residence in the town,” Mr. Benincasa added.