Opponents Continue To Challenge Benefits Of Shinnecock Canal Redevelopment

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The developers proposing a townhouse development and catering hall on the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays said they will present amended plans for the multifaceted project to Southampton Town planning officials this week, ahead of what could be the final public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, December 9.

The amendments will seek to address several concerns about the current plan raised by officials and Hampton Bays residents at recent hearings, including the height and number of the proposed townhouse buildings and the extent of public access along the canal waterfront.

“The issues, as we understand them, are the height of the canal townhomes, [and] what will be the standard that we’re going to guarantee for [septics],” attorney Guy W. Germano, who represents the would-be developers, Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, told Town Board members at a public hearing on the project on November 25. “We’re also working on a revised site plan for the eastern property,” where the proposed wastewater treatment system would be located, “and some discussion about access along the canal.”

With the developers’ promises of more changes to the application in response to these concerns, many from the community continued to assail the plan, particularly the residential component along the eastern side of the canal. The most impassioned of those barbs took issue with the broader idea of privatizing the canal’s eastern shore, when the property’s zoning and numerous planning directives over the decades call for it to be developed with public buildings, like restaurants, interspersed with public access points.

“Every study over the last 20 years … has said the east side of the canal should be developed with shops and restaurants and pedestrian access,” added John Capone of Hampton Bays. “I’m sure these were never the intended effects of the well-meaning members of the Hampton Bays community who fought to save the CPI … but this is not worth a few extra dollars off my tax bill.”

The Rechlers, who had originally proposed tearing down the Canoe Place Inn building to make way for condominiums, abandoned those plans in the face of a tidal wave of opposition from the community rallied by historic preservation advocates. The developers are now asking to be allowed to “rehabilitate” the CPI building, only scant fractions of which retain their historic qualities, into a hotel and catering hall, and build seven townhouse buildings—containing 37 units—on 2.8 acres along the eastern shore of the canal. The developers have asked for the properties to be declared planned development districts, freeing them from the restrictions of existing zoning.

The Town Board will take up public input on the project again next Tuesday, December 9, at 6 p.m.

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the Town Board could close the public hearing following that meeting, which was rescheduled to accommodate the desires of residents wanting to comment on the project.

At last week’s hearing, the second since the Rechlers tweaked their plans slightly to reduce the size of the residential development, several residents challenged the extent of the so-called “public benefit” the application claimed to be bringing to Hampton Bays, a requirement for approval of a PDD. The benefits, the critics are alleging, were inflated in the application to cast the project in the most favorable light possible. The full costs of reconstructing the CPI and the anticipated tax bills of the project, for instance, are cited in the application’s list of benefits, which many are charging are misleading statistics.

“I see a tremendous value in the Shinnecock Canal,” said Barbara Pierce of Hampton Bays. “Even so, they don’t amount to much: $618,000 in annual tax revenues to the Hampton Bays schools … 1.5 percent of the total tax levy. If you pay $4,000 to $6,000 a year in your school taxes, you would get $60 to $80 a year. I think the canal is worth more than that.

“At restaurants … we’d be able to sit, to eat, to drink. There’d be public boat slips,” Ms. Pierce continued. “This gives us a small viewing platform and five parking spots. This is valued at $500,000 [of public benefit]. Public access reduces the value of the units. We’re not wanted there.”

Proponents of the project nodded to the potential other uses of the canal property as well, while also noting that as-of-right development of the land would not carry the requirements of state-of-the-art septic systems that the residential development does.

“They could build a 25-room motel, or a restaurant and … either one would have standard septics, releasing more nitrogen into the water,” said Rich Joslin, another Hampton Bays resident.

Others applauded the efforts that the Rechlers and town planning staff had made to tailor the project to dampen its negative impacts on the community while also maximizing potential benefits.

“This is a very good project, and it’s gotten better with your efforts and the developers’ efforts,” added Bruce Doscher of Hampton Bays. “I believe it’s the start of a golden age.”

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