Now that its hulking shell is complete, the new HomeGoods store in Wainscott is drawing fire from residents and public officials—including East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
Complaints have centered on the building’s size and proximity to Montauk Highway, with some saying that the structure has changed the look of the gateway into East Hampton. Others—including the supervisor—are asking how the town ever granted permission for the structure to be built.
“It is the worst site plan I have ever seen, in 40 years,” Mr. Cantwell said on Monday. “The building is clearly too close to the road and should have been set back, and the scale of the building should have been smaller.”
Mr. Cantwell said that although the building got approval from the town’s Planning Board two years ago and is being built legally, according to zoning regulations on that property, he has asked the Planning Department and the town attorney’s office to come up with a new law that would require buildings to have larger setbacks from the street, at least along the Wainscott stretch, so that “something like this never happens again.”
In 2010, Wainscott Retail LLC of Garden City, whose partners included architect Peter Cook of Water Mill and the late developer Gregg Saunders of Sagaponack, purchased the 2-acre property, just west of La Capannina pizzeria, for $3.8 million. In April of this year, construction began on the 15,000-square-foot shingled HomeGoods store after crews tore town the old Plitt Ford building, which had been sitting vacant for several years.
According to Rick DelMastro, the chairman of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, “numerous” people voiced their displeasure with the size and proximity of the HomeGoods over the course of a few months during the application’s review.
In April, Mr. Cook presented the plans to the Wainscott CAC—but by that time the site plan had already been approved by the Planning Board, so the CAC could not offer any input, according to Mr. DelMastro. He said that typically such projects are brought to the CAC before they get town approval, but that didn’t happen this time.
“How this happened, I don’t know,” he said. “If we had been able to have had input prior, there may have been a recommendation of the committee. It doesn’t mean it’d be adopted but at least considered.”
Mr. Cook on Monday said he and Wainscott Retail LLC. went through a four-and-a-half-year process to get to this point, during which time there were several public hearings that yielded no complaints.
He added that if there was a lapse in communication between the CAC and the planners, it wasn’t Wainscott Retail’s fault, because applicants are not required to make presentations to local CACs. He said the Wainscott representative on the Planning Board should have communicated with the CAC before the plans were approved.
“There was nothing done subversively, but open, legal and proper,” Mr. Cook said, adding that the building is 2,500 square feet smaller than zoning would have allowed there, and the 98 parking spaces had to be in the back of the building because the town would not allow parking in front of the building. “Had they allowed 20 spaces forward of the building, it could have been pushed farther back,” he said of the building.
Mr. Cantwell said the Planning Board should have taken into consideration the development pattern on the north side of Montauk Highway in Wainscott, where most buildings have much larger setbacks. “That pattern should have been followed,” he said. “The Planning Board, in my opinion, should have put its foot down and insisted that be the case.” He said the zoning district, which is central business, permits minimal setbacks, which legally allowed the shorter setback for HomeGoods.
Mr. Cook argued that by requiring a larger setback in Wainscott, it would devalue the property in the commercial zone. He said that stretch is Wainscott’s main street, and if buildings were built where they are allowed, the street would have a similar feeling to Bridgehampton or Water Mill, where buildings line the sidewalk.
“Wainscott is a hodgepodge of roof lines, architectural styles and buildings that were built ad hoc,” Mr. Cook said.
Mr. Cantwell said, however, that had the building been required to be set back farther, the scale of the building would have been reduced as well. “But they got their approvals and the building is built,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re stuck with it.”
Mr. Cook said it is unfair to judge the building before it is complete and the landscaping and sidewalk are put in. “People seem to forget what was there,” he said. “They forget, what was there was an eyesore. Anything new is generally looked at with disfavor. The King Kullen in Bridgehampton was a blight, but now I don’t think people can live without it.”
Mr. Cook said the exterior of the HomeGoods, which sells kitchen and bathroom supplies, furniture, bedding and décor, should be finished by the beginning of January and will likely open for business in the spring.