At the request of the developers, the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday night granted a seven-week adjournment of a public hearing on a proposal to redevelop the Canoe Place Inn property in Hampton Bays and build 40 townhouses on the eastern side of the Shinnecock Canal.
While Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the cousins behind the proposal, maintain that the purpose of the adjournment is simply to process all the feedback they’ve received from the public in recent months—much of it opposing their project—some officials are speculating that this postponement will give way to an altered plan, one with fewer townhouses.
As part of the proposal, the Rechlers have agreed to refurbish the Canoe Place Inn and reopen it as a catering facility.
“They have said that they’re looking at all of the suggestions that have been made, and whatever, and they’re taking them into consideration, and they want to bring something back that people are happy with,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Monday night after a debate hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association.
Ms. Throne-Holst also noted that this is the second time the Town Board has sent the Rechlers “back to the drawing board.”
The Rechlers, who have an application for a maritime planned development district, or MPDD, on file with the town, had requested that the third public hearing on their plans be adjourned for a month. But after fielding several complaints from the public about a potential conflict with Thanksgiving, Town Board members postponed the next hearing until Tuesday, December 10. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.
But an altered plan is not guaranteed, Jim Morgo, a consultant and spokesman for the Rechlers, said on Friday. Mr. Morgo said the Rechlers simply want to weigh the comments they’ve been provided and await further feedback from certain entities, such as the Town Planning Department.
“We’re just putting it on hold,” Mr. Morgo said. “We’re still pursuing it. We still have the support of the community. We still think it’s critical to the revitalization of Hampton Bays.”
However, a change of plans might be necessary if the Rechlers want their MPDD to be approved: All four candidates vying for the two open seats on the Town Board in next month’s general election have stated publicly, on multiple occasions, that they do not support the current application. For any PDD to gain approval, a super-majority—four out of five Town Board members—must sign off on the plan.
At the same time, all four Town Board candidates—Jeff Mansfield, Brad Bender, Stan Glinka and Frank Zappone—have also stated that they support the renovation of the inn while calling for a scaling down of the housing project proposed for the eastern side of the canal.
“Frank, Brad, Stan and I have spent a lot of time together lately, and … we’ve been asked this question a lot, and I think it’s pretty fair to say that we’re pretty much all on board—or all kind of agree that our pulse of the community at this time is that this proposal, as it last sat, doesn’t fit,” said Mr. Mansfield, who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines, during a debate on Monday night in Hampton Bays. “There’s too much density on the east side of the canal. There’s concerns from the residents about the septic treatment plant up on the hill on the east side. There’s concerns about water access from the land and also public access from the canal.”
Mr. Mansfield’s running mate, Mr. Glinka, originally supported the MPDD as president of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce, but has since changed his mind, because, he said, he was not aware of the full scope of the proposal until the public hearings began this summer.
Along with Mr. Mansfield and Mr. Glinka, Republican-Conservative supervisor candidate Linda Kabot called for a waterfront dining element to be included in the MPDD, as is permitted under existing zoning. Ms. Kabot went on to suggest that the Rechlers should build to suit the needs of an already established restaurant in Hampton Bays—Rumba Rum Bar on Canoe Place Road—that has become too successful for the small lot it currently leases.
“I propose we facilitate their relocation … ” Ms. Kabot said of Rumba during the same debate. “They’re popular, they’re an asset to this community—relocate to the east side of the canal. Let the Rechlers build to suit.”
Mr. Zappone, the current deputy town supervisor who is seeking a Town Board seat on the Democratic and Independence party lines, said the proposal needs to be modified to allow for more public waterfront access and the proposed wastewater treatment facility for the townhouses—currently sited for a lot on the just east of North Road and in a residential neighborhood—be relocated elsewhere.
“The scale is too large, too many units, too large in size,” said Mr. Zappone, who also serves as Ms. Throne-Holst’s chief of staff, during last week’s debate sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays. “I think that needs to be scaled back significantly. From my perspective, minimally by half.”
Mr. Zappone said he feels the Rechlers have been receptive thus far and he expects them to return with a plan that is easier for residents to accept.
One of the stipulations of any PDD is that it provides a public benefit. As part of their plan, the Rechlers have pledged a quarter of a million dollars toward land preservation, but Mr. Bender, who is Mr. Zappone’s running mate, said this is an area where the application falls drastically short.
“The developer has proposed $250,000 toward open space. That’s an insult,” Mr. Bender said. “You cannot preserve anything with $250,000—give us something we can work with. You can’t buy a home in Hampton Bays for $250,000, and you surely can’t buy a home in Flanders, where I’m from, for $250,000.
“So, if we’re gonna offer something as a community benefit for preservation, we need to add something more to the pot,” he continued.
As for Mr. Morgo, he is suggesting that the candidates familiarize themselves better with the plans, noting that they might feel differently if they are elected to office.
Although all Town Board candidates have expressed a willingness to work with the Rechlers, Ms. Throne-Holst remains the biggest advocate for the developers. The supervisor, who noted that she does not see the developers deviating from the plan to construct some sort of housing on the east side of the canal, said the resurrection of the Canoe Place Inn is critical to revitalizing Hampton Bays,
“That is the kind anchor project that Hampton Bays needs,” she said at a recent debate. “We can talk about economic development and businesses leaving downtown and whatever, but if we don’t put a real shovel in the ground and bring a main attraction to Hampton Bays, as we’re looking at paving the road, as we’re looking at Good Ground Park and developing the historic district and all that, we need that.
“It’s a transformative project and I do believe there’s a way to get it where the community can wrap their head around it,” she continued. “It is as significant an investment in Hampton Bays as we will ever see.”