Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested that the town revisit the Bridgehampton Gateway, a mixed-use, planned development district in the hamlet that, once upon a time, did not have much support from the Town Board.
At Monday evening’s meeting of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, Ms. Throne-Holst brought up the idea of taking another look at the plan, saying she had been reading some old documents. Although the initial talks about the Bridgehampton Gateway predate her time as a town official, she decided to present the idea to Bridgehampton residents as a way to “explore some of the possibilities” of retail use in the hamlet, especially as an application awaits approval from the Town Planning Board, although she would not directly identify that particular one.
“It occurred to me that this could be an opportune moment. As we know, there is an active site plan application,” Ms. Throne-Holst said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Wanting to take the temperature of the community, I brought it out there last night. And I think the reaction was a very positive one.”
A mixed-use planned development district across from the Bridgehampton Commons could conceivably make it easier for a CVS to open there as opposed to the hamlet’s main intersection, a current plan that’s drawn criticism from Bridgehampton residents.
Plans for the Bridgehampton Gateway Planned Development District first materialized in 2003. Proposals included a variety of retail, office and residential spaces on a 13-acre expanse of land located across from the Bridgehampton Commons on Montauk Highway, one of which was a 90,000-square-foot complex anchored by a Barnes & Noble bookstore. The project stalled and eventually fell through, however, after a portion of the land the bookstore giant owned was sold following a default on a property tax bill.
As a PDD, the Bridgehampton Gateway would have become its own zoning district, allowing development to take place without the regular zoning restrictions implemented elsewhere throughout the hamlet. The land across from the Commons is currently zoned for highway business.
Ms. Throne-Holst said that bringing back the Bridgehampton Gateway could be the ideal solution for the hamlet as developers and companies face difficulties with finding retail space. In the past few months, residents have been–and still are–fighting a special exception permit application before the Planning Board that would allow a CVS Pharmacy to be the sole tenant of a building at the corner of the hamlet’s main intersection. The two-story structure was originally approved in 2009 for a mixed use that included office space, but residents have been arguing that a CVS would bring parking and traffic problems to an already problematic area of Bridgehampton.
In order for the Bridgehampton Gateway to come to fruition this time, Ms. Throne-Holst said it would take collaboration among the town Land Management Department, planners, and the owner and developer of the property. Input from the CAC and other community members would be vital as well, she said. Ultimately, though, the supervisor said the property owner–Carol Konner–will have the last say in what she would like to see on the parcel.
“We have had some very good examples of productive processes similar to this,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “And in the last couple of years since we have rewritten the PDD laws, it allows this and allows community input. So I think this is very right for that type of process.”
Members of the CAC felt that the supervisor’s suggestion was a step in the right direction for the hamlet. Co-chair Nancy Walter-Yvertes said on Tuesday that the PDD would offer a way for more businesses to come to Bridgehampton without compromising the historic integrity of Main Street, or causing parking or traffic problems.
“We’re guardedly optimistic that this would be a good solution,” Ms. Walter-Yvertes said. “Larger enterprises can go out at the Gateway.”
Leonard Davenport, a member of the CAC and a member of the steering committee for the group Save Bridgehampton Main Street, said he was pleased to hear that Ms. Throne-Holst was considering reviving the Gateway plan. He said that in a letter he sent to the supervisor and the Town Board over the summer, he had suggested that officials “look outside the box” for other retail spaces besides the corner where CVS may go up, pointing to the vacant parcel across from the Commons as a prime example.
“A change of zoning there would make that property much more valuable and much more easy to develop,” Mr. Davenport said on Tuesday.
Although the possibility of reviving the Bridgehampton Gateway has brought some unexpected hope to the hamlet, residents have done some reviving of their own in the form of talks about incorporating Bridgehampton into a village—talks mainly sparked by the special exception permit application submitted by CVS this summer to the Planning Board.
Fred Cammann, a member of the Bridgehampton CAC, said that the hamlet should incorporate if the Planning Board approves the application despite opposition from the community. Even though officials are preparing to make amendments to the town code regarding special exceptions to zoning rules in downtown business districts, Mr. Cammann noted that not all hamlets have the same visions and needs, and he added that Bridgehampton would benefit from having its own governing boards to make decisions based on what residents feel is best.
“I don’t think any of us are offering incorporation as a threat. What we’re saying is, ‘What do you do when a municipality doesn’t respond to a community?’” Mr. Cammann said. “It’s kind of a test for the Planning Board.”
Mr. Cammann was involved in incorporation discussions 10 years ago, but the proposal did not even reach a referendum, as residents were not in favor of pursuing it. Neighboring villages had been supportive and offered advice on how to get it going, yet town officials had warned it would be “disastrous” if the hamlet went through with it.
“I think they said we couldn’t take care of ourselves properly, that we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” Mr. Cammann said.
Now, however, even though there is still some reluctance, Mr. Cammann said most of the work is already done, which would make the process less complex this time around. Mr. Cammann even tossed around the idea of merging bordering hamlets into one village, as he feels it would make sense for them all to be governed under one entity.
Ms. Walter-Yvertes said incorporation discussions will be taking place in the near future.
Mr. Cammann stressed that incorporation would be key to preventing situations like the controversial CVS project, as residents would be in charge of approving and denying such applications instead of leaving them in the hands of a larger municipality with generalized laws that apply to many other areas throughout Southampton Town.
“You have so many different communities that have so many different classes of urbanization and different makeups,” he said. “I think it would be pretty efficient.”