Rechler Reps Push For Rezoning Of Canal Property As Hampton Bays Residents Raise Opposition

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Facing mounting opposition to their plans, representatives of the would-be developers of a 40-unit townhouse complex on the east side of the Shinnecock Canal on Tuesday painted a threatening picture of what could be built on the land if its owners are not granted a zoning change by Southampton Town.

If the townhouses are not approved, as part of a three-lot development that would also include the construction of a hotel and catering hall on the Canoe Place Inn property directly across the canal, the developers—Gregg and Mitchell Rechler—could instead build restaurants or hotels on the east side of the canal.

Holding up an artist’s rendering of an imposing stucco building with the word “restaurant” emblazoned across its front, which drew some gasps and a few guffaws from the audience, project spokesman Jim Morgo warned that such a use of the land posed more of a nuisance threat to neighbors than current plans to install an underground wastewater treatment plant on the site. The plant would service the townhouses that would overlook the canal.

“We have been told that if the [zone change] is not approved, everything will remain as it is,” Mr. Morgo said. “That is not the case. The Rechlers will build what is permitted as of right.”

Mr. Morgo said that current zoning would allow, with only Planning Board site-plan review, a variety of commercial developments, including a 25-unit motel on the two eastern properties, or a pair of restaurants. The land is already home to two restaurants—Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse—while the easternmost property is currently undeveloped.

Mr. Morgo and other representatives said that if the development plans are approved by the Town Board, the wastewater treatment system would be barely visible and not create any noise or traffic. The system, which would take in wastewater from the townhouses and treat it to remove nitrogen before releasing the water into a series of leaching wells to filter back into groundwater, would be largely underground. Just a 300-square-foot shed would be visible on the property, 30 percent of which would be cleared of trees and landscaped to make way for the leaching wells.

Solid waste from the townhouses would be contained in five air-tight septic tanks on the residential property and pumped out regularly. They also said the high-tech system proposed in the zone change application would be many times more environmentally friendly than the basic septic systems that would be allowed for the as-of-right development of the property.

Much of the growing opposition to the project is coming from Hampton Bays residents who live in the hillside neighborhood that stretches east from the proposed wastewater treatment lot. Those residents have said they fear smells will waft from the property—Rechlers’ representatives have said the smells would be largely contained underground—and that the proximity of the wastewater treatment facility will hurt their property values.

“There is simply no way to put lipstick on this pig,” said neighbor Scott Bolster. “None of us have any control over the stigma associated by the word ‘sewage,’ or when it is associated with their community.”

“A town council has no more important role than the trust given them in deciding issues surrounding changes in zoning,” added Dale Nichol, another resident.

Others have said that the extent of the development proposed on the canal is simply too much and outweighs the main benefit associated with the project: The historically-minded redevelopment of the Canoe Place Inn on the west side of the waterway. The Rechlers are seeking Town Board approval of a proposed Maritime Planned Development District that would span both sides of the canal.

On Tuesday, critics submitted two petitions, which they said contained the signatures of more than 2,000 local residents, who oppose the townhouses.

The proposed project—which is technically two separate projects—calls for the complete renovation and restoration of the Canoe Place Inn to its 1920s-era self, featuring 20 hotel rooms, a catering hall and a 210-seat indoor-outdoor restaurant, as well as the townhouse units across the canal. In 2006, the Rechlers had proposed demolishing the crumbling inn and building 75 timeshares on the property, but that plan was rejected by the community and gave birth to a movement to save the CPI.

But now some of those who originally stood in support of the Rechlers and their plans to resurrect the CPI, if they were allowed to do a profitable residential development on the east side of the canal, are criticizing the scope of the proposal. They also are displeased with the threats of what could be built on the property.

Members of the Hampton Bays Beautification Association (HBBA), which was a co-signer of a letter in support of the project that ran as a full-page ad in last week’s edition of The Press, said on Tuesday that a majority of its membership does not, in fact, support the project.

“The members are very concerned—they want to restore the CPI—but they are very concerned about what is happening on the east side of the canal,” said Maud Kramer, the former president of the HBBA, one of the groups that led the charge to push the Rechlers to refurbish the inn. “Nine buildings, eight- and 10-foot walls surrounding the property, 60-percent lot coverage, the landscape plan is minimal, there’s not enough property left to hide the buildings.”

“As details of this proposal have emerged, more and more people are saying it would be nice to restore the CPI, but it’s not worth giving up the canal,” added Barbara Pierce, nodding to the loss of public access to the canal though the developers have offered to keep a floating boardwalk in the area. “There’s steps from Montauk Highway, but there’s no way to get there, there’s nowhere to park. This is not real public access.

“If the developers don’t want to consider other options, why not go ahead and build the restaurants,” she continued.

Other residents pointed to the tax revenue and jobs the CPI development and construction of the townhouses would generate as a more important consideration in support of allowing the development to go forward.

“I have to take in someone to help me pay my bills,” one elderly resident said. “[Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent] Lars Clemensen said to tell them that we have the least money spent on students and we still have the highest taxes in Southampton Town. And, dear God, the jobs that are going to come in will make us all proud.”

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she and Councilwoman Christine Scalera would be meeting with the developers in private on Wednesday to discuss the scope of the project. But the supervisor also reminded residents that the board was looking at the impacts of the project in the light of what else could be done with the property.

“I hope everybody appreciates how serious we take our responsibility here—none of us have made up our minds,” she said.

The board adjourned the public hearing until Tuesday, October 22.

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