Senior Housing Developers Pull 555 Amagansett Zone Change Application From Town Consideration

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Concluding that the odds were not in their favor, the developers of the proposed 555 senior housing complex in Amagansett last week pulled their application to rezone their 24-acre property.

A surprised Reed Jones, the East Hampton Town Planning Board chairman, made a “major announcement” on Wednesday, December 11, that Putnam Bridge, the developer, had called at the last minute to pull the application, and that the zone change would therefore no longer be considered. The proposed senior housing overlay, which would have made it possible to rezone the property, was still on the Planning Board’s agenda, however.

Just a week earlier, the Suffolk County Planning Commission had voted against approving the 555 project and a zone change to allow the complex. The commission’s decision took a major toll on Putnam Bridge’s momentum, requiring a supermajority of four votes from the Town Board to override the ruling.

Seeing that, Putnam Bridge decided to withdraw the zone change application in order to continue discussion about the need for senior housing, according to Britton Bistrian, a land use consultant working with Putnam Bridge. Both applications had been slated for a public hearing at the December 19 Town Board meeting, but now only the senior housing overlay district proposal will be aired.

Ms. Bistrian said that the developer never wanted a vote on December 19.

“This takes the fuel out of the hysteria,” she said about withdrawing the zone change application. “This way we can focus on senior housing and the intent of the development.”

The application for the development of 555 called for the creation of 79 apartments and cottages on the former Principi property on Montauk Highway in Amagansett. The units would range from 692 to 1,977 square feet each and would be sold mostly at market rates.

In addition to the units and open vistas, 555 would also include a field house, tennis courts, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, a decorative windmill, gardens, a greenhouse, and a pond.

In recent months, Putnam Bridge has scaled back the project in response to town officials’ and community members’ concerns about its size. In October, however, the company introduced an application for a change of zone, in addition to asking the Town Board to create a senior housing overlay district, which would expand the potential uses of the site.

Currently, the tract is zoned for residential, affordable housing and limited business uses, but allows for only six houses and 36 affordable housing units, according to Putnam Bridge. If the zoning change were to be approved by the Town Board, the senior housing overlay district would allow four housing units per acre, with a maximum of 100 units for each development—thus permitting a higher-density development for senior housing, which is typically more compact and has community buildings. The town already allows higher density in certain districts for affordable housing, senior or otherwise.

The proposals, which had to be reviewed by the Suffolk County Planning Department and Planning Commission, had been looked upon favorably by the County Planning Department staff before their defeat before the commission, according to David Calone, the Planning Commission’s chairman. But once the applications reached the commission, they were shot down because members said that they were not in harmony with East Hampton Town’s Comprehensive Plan, which is meant to prevent overdevelopment and help conserve agricultural land—an argument that the Town Planning Department had shared with the Town Board a few months back.

Ms. Bistrian said that opponents of the proposals did not get their facts straight and that the wrong information was disseminated as a result.

Last week, Francis Jenkins, an owner of the 555 Montauk Highway parcel, said that, in light of the county’s decision, Putnam Bridge will regroup and think about how to move forward, but in the meantime look forward to having a less heated discussion about a possible senior housing overlay district.

Planning Board members last Wednesday said unanimously that they support the idea of a senior housing overlay, just not in the way it has been written. They said much more research, discussion and planning need to be done before such a change to town zoning could occur.

“The board had some concern about the way this legislation was drafted,” Mr. Jones said this week. “It’s extremely dense. The density in the current legislation allows up to 100 units. It’s massive and more significant than what 555 proposed. But everyone agrees that the population base in the town is aging and becoming a more year-round community.”

At the Town Board level, council members have been largely split on the issue. On November 7, the board slated public hearings on both creating the new zoning category and rezoning the property to fit into it. Council members Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby spoke against the applications, but Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione agreed to the hearings. The three of them have been accused by some members of the public of pushing the 555 project through too quickly before they leave office at the end of the year. But in a letter to the Group for Good Government, Ms. Quigley shot down those suspicions, saying she never intended to vote on either issue on December 19, just to hold the hearings.

“I voted for both hearings, because I believe that we must hear from the community on the issue,” she wrote. “I believe that senior housing is an issue we must face (and indeed despite the claims of the opponents, the comprehensive plan specifically contains as one of its goals the need to address senior housing). As for the second hearing [on the rezoning of 555], holding it was done specifically because the two applications have been being discussed as integrally related … it would be disingenuous and in part could be seen as a bit like trying to split the baby.”

Ms. Bistrian said she hopes the public hearing that night will prove more helpful than it probably would have been had the rezoning for 555 been included on the agenda. She said a vote on the senior housing overlay district is not expected that night.

“Maybe we can zoom out,” she said. “The public hearing is to hear public feedback. We keep hearing the density is too high and the maximum should be 70 units. The point is to massage it to become something palatable for the masses. Had the hysteria not happened, we could’ve had a more educated conversation and know what compromise everybody could be happy with.”

The public hearing at the Town Board meeting will be at 7 p.m. on December 19.

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