Nearly a dozen residents voiced their opposition to allowing CVS Pharmacy to open a 10,000-square-foot store inside the old bowling alley building on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach at last week’s public hearing on the application.
The special exemption permit is needed from the Village Board because the property, which is owned by Sunset West LLC and falls within the village’s Main Street/Business 1 District, caps the space that can be occupied by a single business at 3,000 square feet. That zoning, approved several years earlier, was specifically designed to prevent larger chain stores from opening in Westhampton Beach. Plans for the property date back nearly a decade.
Although most of the residents who spoke at a hearing on Thursday night, December 3, said they do not want a third pharmacy to open in their small village, Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore stressed that her board cannot reject such an application based on the type of business that is looking to occupy about half of the 20,000-square-foot space. The other half of the space will be broken down into six different storefronts, one of which will be able to accommodate a restaurant.
According to Village Attorney Stephen Angel, the current plan addresses all changes previously suggested by the village during the ongoing and lengthy negotiations.
“Boards can’t deny to protect a business owner,” Mr. Angel said with regards to possibly rejecting the special exemption permit because the village already features two other pharmacies, including the privately owned Barth’s Pharmacy that sits almost directly across the street from the closed bowling alley on Sunset Avenue.
“Wrong or right, there’s a clear line of authority,” he continued. “If they meet the conditions, they are entitled to get approval.”
But that line of thinking did not sit well with some. Lou Cassara, the owner of Barth’s Pharmacy, which also has locations in East Moriches and East Quogue, made it clear that he is not happy with the plan.
During the hearing, Mr. Cassara suggested that the entire application is simply a setup that will allow CVS to expand its footprint in the future, assuming that the landlord cannot find additional tenants to occupy the six other storefronts that would be created.
Others in attendance stated that they do not understand why CVS would want to open in the village, pointing not only to Barth’s Pharmacy, but the much-larger Rite Aid that already operates at the easternmost end of Main Street in Westhampton Beach.
“We have a Rite Aid. We have Barth’s,” said Toni-Jo Birk, a former village trustee whose family owns and operates Bike ‘n Kite on Potunk Lane. “I understand it’s a permitted use, but does the community really need it?”
Dean Speir, who publishes a local blog and is a longtime resident of Westhampton Beach, pledged his allegiance to Barth’s Pharmacy. He then summarized the village’s stance, even pointing out that there is a free market in place that allows the applicant and tenant to risk their own money.
“I understand the people who say we don’t need a CVS—I certainly agree,” Mr. Speir said. “But the village attorney and Trustee [Brian] Tymann said that’s not one of the standards they have to meet. All the emotional arguments are not part of the standards that the Village Board will have to meet, and if they try and address those, they’re going to get sued.”
Not everyone was against the development. Larry Weinberger, who has lived in Westhampton Beach for about a year, said he attended the meeting with an open mind and, by the end of it, realized that the development could benefit the community in the long term. Mr. Weinberger spoke about the idea of eventually having more places in Westhampton Beach to eat and hang out. In order to get to that point, he said, he understands that something sizable will need to move into the property to attract those other types of businesses.
Current plans show the CVS Pharmacy occupying the center of the old bowling alley building, with three different shops on each side of it. Along Sunset Avenue, there would be a 2,508-square-foot space dedicated for a 50-seat restaurant, a 945-square-foot retail store and a 1,166-square-foot space for a wet-use store with food storage that can be used for a Starbucks or yogurt shop. Facing the parking lot to the north of the building will be another wet use store with food storage that will measure 1,010 square feet, along with a 964-square-foot retail store and a 1,054-square-foot retail store.
John Bennett of the Southampton Village-based law firm Bennett and Read LLP, who is representing Sunset West LLC, gave an overview of the site plans and pointed out that there would be entrances on both the north and east sides of the parking lot. The lot will include 111 parking spaces.
The attorney also said they are awaiting the results of a required traffic study, though he said he does not expect the development to have an adverse impact.
Toward the end of the hearing, Mr. Cassara approached the podium and asked the nearly 40 community members in attendance to raise their hand if they were in favor of a CVS opening in the village. Only one hand went up.
The public hearing was left open to allow the board more time to accept additional comments from both the public and consultants. It is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday, January 7, the board’s first meeting of the new year. It is not known if the board will vote on the application at that time.