While the eyes of many residents, elected officials and business owners in Hampton Bays are fixed on the two properties that sit opposite one another overlooking the Shinnecock Canal, a third parcel tied into the Canoe Place Inn redevelopment plan is stirring up a controversy of its own—at least among a small but growing number of people.
More than 30 residents who live next to the easternmost property have banded together in an effort to prevent Southampton Town from granting a change of zoning to R Squared Development LLC, a move that would allow the company to renovate the Canoe Place Inn and reopen it as a catering hall and also construct 40 townhouses on the east side of the canal. Those plans would require the closure of two restaurants, Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse, on the east side of the canal.
But approval of the proposed Maritime Planned Development District (MPDD) would also give the company, which is owned by cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, permission to build a wastewater treatment facility that would service the townhouses near their homes.
“[We] don’t want the gold-flecked fecal matter from this luxury neighborhood being pumped into another neighborhood that’s not quite as luxurious,” said Rita Knox, who lives on Seneca Drive and just down the street from where the wastewater treatment facility would be built, on behalf of the group of neighbors. “There’s something politically incorrect about that.”
Rather than being identified by a popular restaurant or an iconic eyesore, the easternmost property included in the MPDD is defined by its lack of development—and Ms. Knox and others want it to remain that way.
The 2.68-acre, heavily wooded property that sits east of North Road and north of Old Canoe Place Road would house a 225-square-foot wastewater monitoring building, a 100-square-foot pump station and a 1,400-square-foot parking lot. A leaching pool covering just over three-quarters of an acre would also be constructed to treat wastewater from the townhouses. The solid waste would be managed by an on-site system, Jim Morgo, a representative for R Squared, said this week.
The primary concern for the neighbors is what the addition of a wastewater treatment facility would do to the value of their properties, Ms. Knox said, though many also are worried about potential leaks in the leaching pools and the increased traffic the facility will bring to the small, privately constructed roads in their neighborhood.
Some also worry that the metal fencing around the property will detract from the aesthetics of the neighborhood and that the facility itself will emit foul odors, even though the structure is supposed to handle only liquid waste, Ms. Knox said. “There is a social stigma attached to a wastewater treatment facility,” she said. “But that shouldn’t be our stigma.”
Ms. Knox said she and her neighbors were unaware that the eastern property would be incorporated into the Rechlers’s newest proposal until days before the Town Board hosted a public hearing about it on August 13. Some are taking issue with the fact that the developers reached out to certain groups, such as the Hampton Bays Historical Society, Civic Association, Chamber of Commerce, Beautification Association and the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, but left out community members like themselves who are not affiliated with those organizations.
“No one reached out to us. They did speak to civic groups, but we don’t have a civic association,” said Peter Bernagozzi, another resident of Seneca Drive. “I think anyone would see that the residents next to a wastewater treatment facility would have some issues, or at least some questions about it.”
Mr. Morgo said when he began reaching out to the community, he and the Rechlers were told that the best way to reach out to residents was through the hamlet’s four main organizations and, later, the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays. “I suppose we should have thought about people who don’t belong to any organization,” Mr. Morgo said.
He added that he and the Rechlers have been made aware of the issues raised by the neighbors and he spoke with some of them following the August 13 hearing, but would like to set up a more formal meeting with the group as soon as possible. He also pointed out that many issues about the easternmost property and the wastewater treatment facility that would be built on it were not fully delved into during the public presentations earlier this month. He said that has contributed to the lack of understanding about the plan among certain community members.
Mr. Bernagozzi countered that he and his neighbors understand that the Rechlers are looking out for their best business interests. Still, he added, he would like for the developers to come up with an alternative plan for how they are going to handle the waste coming from their proposed development.
“It was creative thinking that got them to this point,” Mr. Bernagozzi said. “I think they can go back to the drawing board and, if they use a little more creativity, they can come up with something that benefits everybody.”
As of right, the Rechlers can build a 21,032-square-foot, 160-seat restaurant, or a 10-room motel on the easternmost property, which is targeted for the wastewater treatment plant. Many neighbors, however, are skeptical that either is an option due the shape of the property and its uneven ground.
On the west side of the canal, where the CPI now stands, the cousins could raze the inn and build a 49,187-square-foot, 338-seat restaurant without requesting a change of zone. They could also, as a right, demolish both Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse and replace both with a 17,176-square-foot, 238-seat restaurant or a 15-room motel, according to the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Rechlers and on file with the town.
Mr. Morgo also pointed out that regardless of what happens with the MPDD application, Tide Runners will close its doors next month and the building will eventually be demolished.
On Saturday, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi met with some of the neighbors who oppose the wastewater treatment plant, according to Ms. Knox. She said they inspected the property, toured the neighborhood and answered some of the questions posted by neighbors.
Ms. Throne-Holst and Mr. Nuzzi did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the proposal.
Dorothy Donahue, who has lived on Seneca Drive since 1976, described the proposal of building 40 townhouses along the east side of the canal as “absurd,” and said that while she would like to see the Canoe Place Inn brought back to glory days, she questions the feasibility of such an undertaking.
Both she and her neighbors also agree that the inn’s preservation should not come at the cost of destroying a wooded property on their side of the canal.
“I’d love to see a nice little pocket park there, or if they could get a lovely home there to overlook the canal with a nice view,” Ms. Donahue said. “Or whatever is going to be left of it.”