Bridgehampton Residents Revive Incorporation Talks

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Should the Southampton Town Planning Board allow a CVS pharmacy to be the sole tenant of a building going up at a corner on Bridgehampton’s main intersection, a group of residents say it could spark a revival of a long-dormant plan to incorporate the hamlet as the town’s eighth village.

An application for a special exception permit is before the Planning Board, the only hurdle CVS must clear to occupy the entire building going up at 2510 Montauk Highway, a corner that includes Ocean Road, the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and Lumber Lane.

Some residents say Bridgehampton should incorporate if the Planning Board approves the CVS application in spite of opposition from the community. Several protests were held over the summer, and opponents also wrote letters to town officials voicing concerns about the impact the store would have on traffic and parking. Recently, residents have also suggested using the proposed CVS corner to house an expansion of the Hampton Library, while simultaneously establishing a small public green space on the same lot.

The Town Board is preparing to make amendments to the town code regarding special exceptions to zoning rules in downtown business districts.

Fred Cammann, a member of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, noted that not all hamlets have the same visions and needs. Bridgehampton, he said, would benefit from having its own governing boards to make decisions based on what residents believe is best for the community so that a situation like the CVS controversy will not happen again.

“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?” he said. “It’s kind of a test for the Planning Board.”

Mr. Cammann led incorporation discussions the last time the idea was considered 10 years ago, but the idea failed to gain enough public support for taking the initial steps to get the process going.

According to state law, the incorporation process starts with a petition signed by at least 20 percent of residents, or by the owners of more than 50 percent of the overall assessed value of real property in the area, all of whom must be eligible to vote. After the petition is received by the town supervisor, he or she holds a public hearing and then determines whether the petition meets legal requirements.

Incorporation eventually comes to a vote among residents of the territory in question. Once it gets voter approval, the resolution is sent to several state and county offices, and then a certificate of incorporation is issued. Elections for a mayor and village board must follow within 60 days.

According to Mr. Cammann, villages such as Quogue had offered support and advice on how to incorporate the last time around, and then-mayor George Motz even provided informational pamphlets and invited Mr. Cammann and others to sit in on discussions. Around the same time, Sagaponack residents also were leading their own effort to incorporate, which they successfully did in 2005, as were people who pushed for villages of Dunehampton and Southampton Beach, which failed to achieve incorporation.

While town officials supported the Sagaponack bid for incorporation, they had warned it would be “disastrous” if Bridgehampton residents went through with it as well. “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.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the town’s stance on incorporating Bridgehampton as a village.

Now, however, even though there is still some reluctance, Mr. Cammann said most of the work is already done, including the hiring of lawyers, which would make the process less complex now. And although Citizen Advisory Committees usually do not lend a hand to incorporation, since the committees are created by the town, Bridgehampton CAC Co-Chair Nancy Walter-Yvertes has said she is in favor of further discussions.

One resident whose opinion on incorporation has swayed over the years is Leonard Davenport, a member of the CAC and a representative of the steering committee for the group Save Bridgehampton Main Street. Mr. Davenport said he is in favor of incorporation now because the CVS situation has, in his eyes, shown how difficult it can be for a town municipality to cater to the needs of every hamlet under the umbrella of the same laws and regulations. In a village with its own government, Bridgehampton residents would be in charge of approving and denying controversial applications instead of leaving them in the hands of a larger municipality with generalized laws that apply to many other areas throughout Southampton Town.

“When you have to deal with that over a very, very large town and area, it’s a much tougher thing,” Mr. Davenport said. “I was opposed to it in the past, but I’m much more open to it now.”

Mr. Cammann agreed. “You have so many different communities that have so many different classes of urbanization and different make-ups,” he said. “I think it would be pretty efficient.”

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