Gregg Rechler Says Canoe Place Inn Investors Are Growing Impatient

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Two years after developing a plan to save the Canoe Place Inn, Gregg Rechler said he has fallen in love with the idea of restoring and reopening the decades-old Hampton Bays building that some say should be a historical landmark.

However, many hamlet residents are feeling anything but love for the 40 townhouses that Mr. Rechler and his cousin, Mitchell Rechler, say they must build along the eastern side of the Shinnecock Canal to subsidize the renovation of the dilapidated inn that most recently served as a nightclub.

And after nearly a decade of owning the Canoe Place Inn property, a span during which they have pitched a pair of contested planned development districts and invested millions in research and consulting fees, Gregg Rechler said their investors are getting fed up with the lack of progress.

“I have some partners who are really indifferent and just want to see a project go forward,” Mr. Rechler said Monday. “I had to do a lot of convincing back in 2010 just to get them on board with this plan.

“I’m a developer, that’s my job,” he continued. “I’d love to just do romantic projects—which I hope I do get to do—but at the end of the day, it’s been too long and we have move to forward.”

Mr. Rechler said it has long been his goal to have substantial progress on a project by the end of this year, and he doesn’t feel his company, R Squared Development, and the town have gotten there yet.

Although he declined to give a deadline or specify what would qualify as a satisfactory amount of progress, Mr. Rechler said the option of razing the inn as of right has always been on the table. And if things don’t progress fast enough, demolition could be inevitable.

The Rechlers can, as of right, tear down the inn and build a 49,187-square-foot, 338-seat restaurant on the nearly 5.7-acre property. On the east side of the canal, the cousins can legally raze the now vacant Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse buildings and construct either a 17,176-square-foot, 238-seat restaurant or a 15-room motel on the 4.5 acres. And, farther east, on the hill just across North Road, on a plot of land that the Rechlers have designated as a possible site for a wastewater treatment plant to service their proposed townhouses, the developers could build a 21,032-square-foot, 160-seat restaurant or a 10-room motel on the nearly 2.7-acre property.

The cousins are scheduled to go before the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday, December 10, for a third hearing on their proposed maritime planned development district, the plan that would restore the inn in exchange for building the 40 townhouses.

In 2005, the two properties on the east side of the canal were targeted by the town for possible preservation, using proceeds from the Community Preservation Fund. Also in the past, the Rechlers have kicked around the idea of requesting a special exception from the Town Planning Board to convert the hotel use of the Canoe Place Inn’s 28 upstairs units and five cottages into credits that would allow them to build 33 timeshares on the property.

Mr. Rechler would not comment this week about what route he and his company would take if they were not granted a maritime planned development district by the town, saying: “I can’t make any comments about potential changes until I see all the pieces.”

Mr. Rechler noted that he and his partners need more feedback from the town, particularly from its planning department, before deciding what their next move will be. He all but ruled out the option of reducing the number of proposed townhouses, though many Hampton Bays residents say they object to the density of the project and think they would be giving up too much—namely access to the waterfront by the two restaurants—under the proposal.

“The economics are pretty limiting, so I don’t think I have a lot of options,” Mr. Rechler said. “We already reduced the number of townhouses from 45 to 40.”

Mr. Rechler said he also feels a sense of obligation to the project because of how many residents have expressed a desire to save the Canoe Place Inn; it was that sentiment that derailed the Rechlers initial plan that called for 75 condominiums to be built in place of the inn.

“We’re approaching 2014 and this isn’t the plan I wanted to build,” he said. “This is the plan they told me I should build.”

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