A long-awaited study of the County Road 39 corridor in eastern Southampton Town is nearing completion and could be presented to the Town Board by the end of summer, according to town planning officials.
After a series of fits and starts, planners said they expect to be able to present the sprawling study of conditions, goals and implementation strategies for the long-term revitalization and redevelopment of the town’s main commercial corridor by the end of this month or early August and schedule public hearings on its many details, Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins told Town Board members at a work session on June 27.
The study, under way for more than five years, was begun with the mission of drafting comprehensive guidelines for redevelopment of the corridor, which suffers from blight in some regions, unappealing commercial road frontages in others, and an incongruous mix of business uses throughout.
“The objective is to make the highway business areas attractive, productive and consistent with the town’s resort image,” Mr. Collins said in his update on the study’s progress. “The other [objective] is a gateway corridor, with commercial concentrations instead of commercial sprawl, and access and visual upgrades throughout as part of an overall design management plan.”
The study recommendations also will give the Town Board guidance on a looming decision about a change-of-zone application that would allow for the construction of a 40,000-square-foot King Kullen supermarket surrounded by a cluster of retail stores near Magee Street. The developers have said that their project could spark the redevelopment of one of the most run-down stretches of the roadway. But with the confusion created by spot decisions on zoning by past town boards behind much of the issues along the roadway, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the corridor study’s recommendations are a critical component to the board’s review of the change of zone application.
“This study needs to be completed, adopted and put to bed before we consider any major applications for that corridor,” she said.
Mr. Collins said the study will recommend broad new guidelines for redevelopment that dictates where parking areas will go, landscaping and streetscaping suggestions and a variety of other site planning elements. He noted that the effects will be slow in coming, as changes will have to happen organically, according to property and business owners’ desires and economic demands.
“It’s going to take some time,” Mr. Collins said. “But as they come in to redevelop, that’s when we’re going to be able to reach the objectives.”
The biggest creative hurdle in the study’s objectives will be finding a way to spur commercial vitality in some of the more blighted stretches of the roadway as a catalyst for redevelopment.
The redevelopment will be complicated by the broad variety of zoning districts that exist along the stretch of roadway, which includes everything from car dealerships to furniture stores to hotels and retail malls.
“How is it that we come to this situation where it looks like a jigsaw puzzle in terms of all these different zoning districts?” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming asked.
“Decisions by the Town Board,” Mr. Collins responded.
“There’s this hodgepodge of activity that goes on there with no sense of rhyme or reason to it,” Ms. Fleming added. “If that’s what’s happening now, that’s not good planning to continue to let it happen in this haphazard way.”
Mr. Collins acknowledged that and said the study looks at a variety of ways to try to guide redevelopment over the coming decades into a more cohesive amalgam.
The tangle of zoning districts and disjointed development styles was largely a product of the 1970s and 1980s, when the town first created its “highway business” zone along the main thoroughfare of the eastern town to encourage clustering of commercial development in a single corridor. But so as not to make businesses already existing in the area non-conforming, they created pocket zones around those businesses.
“They said, here’s a motel, and they drew a line around that and called it a motel zone,” planner Janice Scherer said. “They created zones to fit what existed.”
Mr. Collins said that a key component of the study will be incorporating planning tools into the town code to allow the Planning Board to guide coordinated redevelopment of the existing properties with an eye on the “resort image” aesthetic the town wants to see for the South Fork’s primary gateway. The main overall objective of the study, he noted, is to enhance the community character and improve the scenic qualities along the corridor. Included in the study will be the results of a visual preference survey of area residents.
The planners noted that already in some instances the town has been able to use creative development strategies, like planned development districts, to craft some recent redevelopment projects according to the sort of guidelines envisioned in the study. Ms. Scherer pointed to a new Cancos Tile franchise that had originally been proposed with a design that Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said “belongs on Route 110 in Melville,” but was scrapped and redesigned with help from planners and is now going to be “quite nice.”
“If we had all this upfront, we wouldn’t have had to go through all that and would have saved them wasting time and money,” Ms. Scherer said. “[The study] is taking all these ideas and putting them into a guideline where someone can follow the framework and know upfront” how to proceed with their design.