The Westhampton Beach Village Board is considering hiring an outside firm to investigate whether a grocery story should be permitted along Old Riverhead Road, after the previous administration had repeatedly denied requests from a developer asking that it modify to village’s master plan so he could build one there.
For the past three years, Westhampton resident Andrew Mendelson has been petitioning the board to change the master plan to permit a grocery store along the western side of Old Riverhead Road, just south of the Long Island Rail Road tracks, where he owns two adjoining properties. Both fall within the village’s B-3 Business and I-1 Industrial districts, and neither zoning currently permits supermarkets.
The Village Board will vote during its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, December 4, to determine whether to pay environmental planning firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis in Melville $15,700 to examine one portion of the master plan, and determine if a grocery store is a compatible use for land along the main corridor leading into the village.
Previous similar requests made by Mr. Mendelson to the board were rebuked by former Mayor Conrad Teller, who demanded that the would-be developer first submit a formal application requesting a change of zone—something Mr. Mendelson has refused to do.
But Mayor Maria Moore said this week that she thinks it is time to reexamine the code, leaving open the possibility of amending it, pointing to a large number of requests from residents asking that the village do whatever it can to attract a new grocery store to Westhampton Beach. Currently, there is only one supermarket, the Waldbaum’s on Sunset Avenue, operating within the municipality.
“I’ve been approached by a lot of people about it, so I think we should look into it,” Ms. Moore said during last week’s work session.
The board must first weigh the idea of spending $15,700 to examine one part of the village’s 2006 master plan against other options, such as updating or replacing the entire plan, which would cost roughly $40,000 and take about nine months to complete, according to estimates put together by Village Planner Kyle Collins in 2012.
Trustee Ralph Urban said this week that he is unsure how he will vote on the issue, because he still needs to weigh the potential costs and benefits. If the board opts to hire Nelson, Pope & Voorhis to look at just the feasibility of allowing a new grocery store, and concludes that it is still not compatible with the area, Mr. Urban pointed out that the village would have paid more than $15,000 to learn what it already knows.
On the other hand, Mr. Urban added, the master plan is probably due for an update in the near future.
“I still have to get it in my mind before I vote on it,” he said, “so I’m not sure what the plan is if we go forward with one option or the other.”
Trustees Hank Tucker, Charlie Palmer and Patricia DiBenedetto did not immediately return calls this week seeking comment, though none raised opposition to the idea during the work session held on November 19.
Because his two properties, which total 4.2 acres, fall in different zones, and because he is pursuing a non-permitted use, Mr. Mendelson must submit his request for a change of zone directly to the Village Board rather than to the municipality’s Zoning Board of Appeals, Mr. Urban said. However, Mr. Mendelson has not yet made such a request, and has suggested in the past that he does not believe he should have to do so.
Mr. Mendelson did not return multiple calls this week seeking comment on the board’s announcement.
In the past, Mr. Mendelson has expressed an interest in building a 40,000-square-foot grocery store on his land, which is about 1.5 acres larger than the 2.7-acre Waldbaum’s property on Sunset Avenue. The Waldbaum’s building measures 31,919 square feet, according to Southampton Town records.
While the Waldbaum’s is permitted under current zoning, because it falls within the village’s B-1 Business district, which encompasses Main Street, Sunset Avenue and the surrounding area, grocery stores are not allowed in the B-2 and B-3 Business districts, which include Montauk Highway and Old Riverhead Road, because both are major arteries and not conducive to high-traffic businesses.
“I saw two aspects [for the study]: One, look at the existing business comprehensive study and see whether a supermarket would be a variance of that,” Village Attorney Steve Angel said during last week’s work session. “And the second thing is look at just the concept of a supermarket in the B-2 and B-3 zones.”
Mr. Collins said the board must consider the possibility that such a zoning modification could result in the closing of the Waldbaum’s, which many locals say they now avoid because of cramped conditions and limited choices. Therefore, he added, the board should also include a market study as part of its plans.
“There’s many studies on downtowns on the relationship to your anchor,” Mr. Collins said. “Just as an anchor is used in a big shopping mall, or if it’s a downtown area, the anchor brings people downtown.”
Mr. Angel said it is important to look at how many people visit downtown Westhampton Beach because they plan on shopping at Waldbaum’s, and how many drive to the grocery store and exclusively shop there before returning home.
During last week’s work session, Mr. Mendelson urged Mr. Collins and the board to take into consideration a survey of 700 residents of Westhampton Beach and the surrounding of hamlets of Westhampton, Quiogue, Speonk and Remsenburg that he had conducted in 2011 to address some of those questions.
“I did spend $10,000 to survey 700 people, which is more people than vote, and some of the answers to these questions are pretty much right there,” Mr. Mendelson said. “The questions, like Steve [Angel] said about people driving their cars to the supermarket—well, 95 percent of people said they drive to the supermarket then drive home. Those questions are answered by 700 people who live right here in these zip codes.”