Six years after opening their brand new facility to the public, Westhampton Free Library trustees are looking to put the finishing touches on the two-story building.
The plan is to invest a $1.3 million donation received by the facility in 2014 to convert an unfinished 2,750-square-foot storage space on the second floor of the Westhampton Beach building and open it to the public. Officials have not yet decided how they will utilize the space, which they refer to as “The Attic.”
The area in question was originally slated to be finished when the $7.8 million, 14,250-square-foot library opened its doors in 2010. At the time, library officials did not have enough Pine Barren credits—a system that permits more intense development in exchange for the purchase and transfer of “credits,” which are created when land is preserved elsewhere—to finish the work. Instead, they opted to close off the space to the public and store library materials, such as books and holiday decorations, in the space.
Their plans changed when, last year, the Suffolk County Legislature altered the Pine Barren credit law, allowing both libraries and fire districts to receive the county’s credits—also earned through the preservation of land—at no charge. Westhampton Free Library officials were short a quarter of a credit when building the new library, according to Library Director Danielle Waskiewicz. Pine Barrens credits typically range between $80,000 and $100,000 each, according to according to Westhampton Beach Village Building and Zoning Administrator Paul Houlihan.
The change enabled the library to secure the required quarter-credit for the space, and officials will soon be seeking feedback from the public when it comes to suggestions on how to best utilize it.
“It is all completely nebulous right now,” Ms. Waskiewicz said during a recent interview when asked about future plans for The Attic. “The [library] board wants to start the process of looking for architects and start the public participation meetings.”
The Pine Barren sanitary flow credits are designed to control how much waste is being added to the ground that sits above Long Island’s aquifer. Based on square footage, every parcel in Suffolk County is allowed a certain number of gallons of sanitary waste that can be produced. If a developer intends to go over that number, credits must be acquired in order to accommodate the extra gallons, according to Mr. Houlihan.
Those credits can be acquired two ways. They can either be purchased from Suffolk County, which banks its credits from land acquisitions, or a developer can buy land and designate it for preservation. Once land has been preserved, the allowable number of gallons of sewage can be converted to credits and transferred to another property.
According to the building plans that were filed with the Westhampton Beach Building Department during the original construction of the building, the library sits on a 0.64-acre property, entitling the library to generate up to 384 gallons of septic waste per day. In April 2006, the Suffolk County Board of Health approved a variance to allow the library to increase that figure to 430 gallons per day. That change allowed the current library be built, provided that the 2,750-square-foot space not be completed.
In total, the library was short about 75 gallons per day to finish the space, or a quarter of a credit, according to Ms. Waskiewicz.
“That space has been unused space since the building was done,” she said. “When the building was finished they didn’t have enough credits to make the space usable because it would have cost them more money.”
According to former Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who now serves as Southampton Town Supervisor, only fire districts were exempt from having to pay for the credits when the Westhampton Free Library was finished in 2010. A few years later, he started working on legislation that would also allow libraries to apply for the county credits, a bill that required a public referendum and two years to finalize.
In January 2015, the library was notified that the legislation had passed and that it would be given the remaining credits necessary to finish the second floor.
“This will allow the library to use the additional space it already has without having an increase to taxes,” Mr. Schneiderman said this week. “It took several years to accomplish because it was complicated, but all we wanted to do is let the library use the full upstairs.”
With the credits now in hand, the library wants to tap the $1.3 million willed by the late Ann Skovek in 2014 to complete the project without raising taxes. In addition to the funds willed to the library, Ms. Skovek left $780,000 to the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance Association, $392,000 to Bideawee and $130,000 to the Westhampton Beach Historical Society.
“The library, as an association library, enjoys the benefit of being a public-private partnership,” Westhampton Free Library Board President Thomas Moore said in a prepared statement. “The bequest of Ann Skovek, together with the credits awarded by the County, will permit the board of trustees to complete more usable space within our library without any cost to the taxpayers. We expect to receive input from our staff and patrons as we convert Ms. Skovek’s generous gift into a very real benefit for all.”
The unfinished space sits next door to the children’s department. It presently lacks a finished floor and ceiling, and new heating and air conditioning ventilation must be installed.
According to Ms. Waskiewicz and depending on the final plan, officials could end up reorganizing the lower level of the facility. She stressed, however, that there are no formal blueprints yet, and does not yet know the date of the first public hearing on the proposal.
“As services change we have to evaluate the needs of the community,” Ms. Waskiewicz said. “The fact that we can do that through donations is great. It is such a gift to be able to be flexible with the needs of the community.”