Developers Say Lagging Economy Is To Blame For Delaying Projects In Westhampton Beach

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Developers in Westhampton Beach Village are blaming the lagging economy for stalling their construction projects, leaving lots vacant and storefronts empty long after the local governing boards signed off on the plans.

The owners of 8 acres of undeveloped land at the corner of Depot Road and Montauk Highway first pitched a plan back in 2008 to build 48 condos at the site, and though it was close to completion, the plan was put on hold in 2010. The owners, listed in village records as Patio Gardens II LLC, returned to the Westhampton Beach Planning Board again in 2011 to seek approval for the same plan—but, again, the project was delayed.

Bruce Barnet, a manager of Patio Gardens II LLC, said this week that they are now awaiting Suffolk County Department of Health approval, which is necessary before the village’s Planning Board will grant its final approval and the owners can apply for a building permit.

But Mr. Barnet also explained that even after they clear those hurdles, the owners will be reluctant to break ground until there is a noticeable increase in the demand for such housing units.

“We need to see an up-tick in the volume before we make that type of investment,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a very, very slow market.”

Mr. Barnet’s firm built a similar condo complex called Patio Villas just north of the Patio Gardens property, between Depot Road and Old Riverhead Road, in 1987. All 66 units sold in a month, he said. “That’s when you had volume in the market,” he explained, adding that the average time frame for selling those units would have been about two to three years, though he said he didn’t expect condos to sell even in that time frame given the current economy. “You don’t even have that.”

He stressed that obtaining permits from the village has been a simple process; it’s the lack of demand for the housing that is forcing the hand of the developers.

Earlier this year a firm called Timber Ridge Homes completed construction on a condo complex called the Dunes at Westhampton Beach, located on the west side of Old Riverhead Road. Mr. Barnet said he has spoken with the owners, who said they had sold just a small number of the 39 units. The lack of sales, Mr. Barnet said, would most likely delay any work on the Patio Gardens II property.

“This market certainly is getting stronger,” Mr. Barnet said. “It’s getting better. But until more of the housing stock gets bought up, I just don’t see where there is any demand.”

Calls and emails to representatives of Timber Ridge Homes, which has offices in Hauppauge, were not immediately returned this week.

The market has affected more than just housing development. Manhattan developer Barry Bernstein, who owns a vacant lot at the corner of Library Avenue and Main Street in Westhampton Beach, adjacent to the Good Westhampton general store, first proposed a plan in 2008 to construct a 3,000-square-foot building with retail and a cafe-type business. He received approval from the village, but never broke ground and his permit has since expired. Mr. Bernstein returned in November 2012 to obtain approval again for the same project, though he still has not secured final approval to begin construction.

“I held off because I thought it would be advantageous to wait until the market improved, which it has now,” Mr. Bernstein said. He added that he hopes the village will sign off on the plans in the next few months so that he can break ground in the fall.

The owners of a vacant 1.3-acre parcel off Sunset Avenue, a portion of which also fronts Main Street, have seemingly faced a similar dilemma. Plans have been in the works since 2008 to build three buildings for office and retail use on the property, though the project has been listed on the Planning Board agenda for years, only to be adjourned.

Officials from Beaver Lake Development Corp., the firm that owns the property, did not return calls seeking comment.

Nearby, workers have begun gutting the building that formerly housed the Westhampton Bowl to make room for the construction of a new restaurant and about a dozen shops inside. The owners, Sunset West LLC and Teserra LLC, had originally sought to renovate and reopen the bowling alley, but they had difficulty finding a tenant, Don Jewell, the architect for the site, said in a recent interview. As part of the first phase of construction, they will also landscape and pave the parking lot on the property, which extends to Mill Road.

After nearly five years sitting vacant, the redeveloped property could provide a breath of fresh air for the village—once tenants are secured.

Westhampton Beach Planning Board Chair Vic Levy could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the various applications, including those that have been lingering on his board’s agenda for months and, in some cases, years.

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