Before the Rechler cousins made their most recent development pitch to renovate a dilapidated, historic hotel and build 40 new townhouses on the opposite side of the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, many residents and community groups had already come to the same conclusion: one way or the other, the project eventually will happen.
The proposed project came up for discussion before the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday afternoon, the start of the public hearing process on the request by Gregg and Mitchell Rechler to create a Maritime Planned Development District (MPDD) allowing them to move forward with their redevelopment plan. Tuesday’s meeting also marked the start of the review on the project’s draft environmental impact statement.
Their plan is already drawing a strong array of opinions from hamlet residents, some of whom support the project and others who remain vehemently opposed. Supporters are praising the proposal for renovating—and saving—the historic and derelict Canoe Place Inn on the west side of the canal, and the new tax revenue it and the townhouses would generate for Hampton Bays. Opponents are lamenting the density of the project, which would require the Town Board to create a MPDD, a special zoning designation, and raised concerns over the proposed sewage system for the residential complex.
Now that the project is open for discussion, supporters will have the next month to offer their input to further refine the plan, while opponents will continue to try to convince the Town Board to deny the request for a change of zone.
For some the proposal is a home run for the hamlet, as it would bring in new business and boost property values. For others, though, the plan being pushed by R Squared LLC comes with a considerable environmental risk, citing the increased density along one of the hamlet’s main waterways, while also forcing the premature closure of two restaurants—Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse, both on North Road.
But for a select few, the refurbishment of the Canoe Place Inn, a 90-year-old building that was once considered for historic recognition but now lies derelict and vacant, is a sufficient trade-off for the less desirable elements of the proposal—namely, the construction of condominiums along the east side of the canal—since the status quo no longer appears to be an option.
“The Rechlers are going to build on both sides of the canal. They own property on both sides, and they have the right to build what they want,” Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society President Brenda Sinclair Berntson said during a recent interview.
“At least we’d get something for it,” she added, referring to the plan that calls for the renovation of the inn and its reopening as a catering facility. “They are going to build, they are going to tear down Tide Runners, so we should at least get something out of it.”
When Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the owners of Plainview-based R Squared Development LLC, first proposed a PDD for their property in 2006, they received significant criticism from the community, in part because their plan called for the demolition of the Canoe Place Inn to make way for a 75-unit timeshare complex. After that proposal was struck down, the cousins approached members of the community to seek out more popular alternatives and potential trade-offs, said Jim Morgo, a representative for R Squared, beginning with a November 2010 meeting with various civic groups at the Hampton Bays Diner on Montauk Highway.
The result of that and subsequent meetings is the current proposal: a renovated Canoe Place Inn that features 20 rooms, a catering hall that can accommodate up to 350 people, a restaurant that can serve up to 90 people, and outdoor seating for 120 people. Also, residential development along the east side of the canal and a public boardwalk. The development would connect to a modern sewage treatment facility to protect local waterways.
Public engagement by the developers has continued in order to sell residents on the new proposal, including a billboard on Montauk Highway adjacent to the hotel property that directs people to an online petition site, www.savethecpi.com. The site directs people back to the development’s main website and provides the option for them to send a preformed email to Southampton Town Hall, expressing support for the Rechlers’ proposal. More than 180 letters have been submitted since the beginning of July supporting the project, while 23 letters were sent in opposing it, according to town officials.
Much of the opposition is related to the closure of the seasonal canal-side restaurant Tide Runners. A Facebook page, “Save Tide Runners,” was created on July 26 and has 407 “friends.” The restaurant’s owner, Chris Glynn, could not be reached for comment.
Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemenson threw his support behind the project both during the Tuesday’s public hearing at Town Hall and during his district’s Board of Education meeting that evening. He said the biggest selling point for him on the Rechlers’s project is that the townhouses would most likely serve as second homes, meaning that not many school-age children would be attending his district. He also cited the tax revenue that would be generated from a hotel and catering hall.
“Based on the remarks today, we’re concerned about density, we’re concerned about increases to our tax base … ” he said. “This tax-positive impact is important to us because it makes the piece of the pie that everyone else in town has to pay just a little bit smaller.”
So far, the Rechlers also have in their corner the leaders of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce, Civic Association, Historical and Preservation Society, Beautification Association and the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays.
“The chamber feels very strongly about it,” said Stan Glinka, the president of the chamber and a candidate for the Town Board this November. “It will have a very positive impact on the economic environment of the area here in Hampton Bays. It will add a lot more amenities to the area with the catering service and the restaurant, as well as the rooms upstairs.”
Mr. Glinka added that the townhouses would bring more patrons to local businesses during the summer months as the majority of the units are expected to be second homes, a key selling point for the Rechlers. Summer homes, they have pointed out, will not put additional pressure on the Hampton Bays School District.
Bruce King, the president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association, said he also supports the project because the townhouses will add to the hamlet’s tax base without further taxing schools. He added that the proposed sewage system is expected to cut the amount of nitrogen entering the water by as much as half.
Mr. King also said he would like to see something done with the Canoe Place Inn before “something terrible” happens to it, such it catching fire. There have been several small fires over the years at the building, which has been frequented by squatters.
“We’ve always been supportive of changing the area around the Shinnecock Canal to something more resort-oriented instead of what it is now with the one loud bar down by the water and a few other restaurants,” he said. “We think it can be more than that.”
But support for the proposal is not unanimous. Janice Landis, a member of the Hampton Bays Civic Association’s Board of Directors, said she has concerns about the density of the townhouses, adding that there are no guarantees that buyers will use them only as second or third homes. She also said she would be more comfortable if the sewage system proposed for the townhouses also would be incorporated into the renovated inn.
While she is one of only a few who are publicly speaking out against the plan, Ms. Landis said others are going along with it only out of fear of what the Rechlers could do with the properties if the MPDD is rejected. Those fears include demolishing the Canoe Place Inn and pushing ahead with plans to build residential units on the land.
“I’m the minority viewpoint, but even some of the people supporting it are doing so because they’re worried about what will happen if this doesn’t go through,” Ms. Landis said.
Former town supervisor and current supervisor candidate Linda Kabot raised several concerns during Tuesday’s hearing, including the loss of two waterfront restaurants and limiting of public access to the waterfront. The plan calls for a path along the eastern side of the canal to ensure continued public access. She also raised issues about the aesthetics of the structures, namely the proposed boathouses.
“We need to put a little bit more of that flavor into what we’re doing here,” said Ms. Kabot, who lives in Quogue.
Hampton Bays resident Larry Fasciano said he is concerned that the plan isn’t feasible as he questions how much money a catering facility such as the one proposed would actually make, adding that he thinks the inn should be leveled and the townhouses should be built in its place instead. He said that constructing townhouses on the eastern side of the canal will restrict public access to the waterfront, including the view now enjoyed by diners at Tide Runners.
“It’s a travesty because that’s a beautiful piece of property, whether Tide Runners operates it or someone else,” he said. “You can sit and have dinner and watch the boats go through the inlet—it’s just beautiful. And now you’re going to only allow the townhouse residents to enjoy that.”