The Town Board closed one of two public hearings on the plans for the Canoe Place Inn and Canal East redevelopment projects in Hampton Bays on Tuesday night, a step that would open the door for the developers to pare down the much criticized townhouse development on the Shinnecock Canal component of the joint project.
The board closed the public hearing on the portion of its review concerning the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the overall project. The hearing on the change of zone for the three properties involved in the multi-use project remains open and will be the subject of a fifth hearing session on January 28 at 6 p.m.
By closing the hearing on the DEIS, the board officially closes the record on public concerns about the scope of the project and the type of developments that will take place.
The developers, R-Squared Development LLC owners Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, have said they will take into account the robust objections and environmental concerns raised during six months of hearings and have hinted they will reconsider the designs of their plans, which call for 40 townhouses on the east side of the canal and a sewage treatment plant on a hillside parcel they own just across North Road from the canal.
“The things we’ve heard that need to be studied are obviously mass and density,” Gregg Rechler said at Tuesday night’s hearing. “We realize these are very important facets. What we’d like to do is be in a position to get a complete set of public comments, take all these comments and come back with a holistic approach and, hopefully, merge the ultimate design of this project with economic feasibility.”
“We are really very excited about the project,” he added. “We think it can bring a lot to this side of Hampton Bays, and we want to integrate these comments into the project.”
In contrast to past hearings, where the developers have had multiple representatives present detailed reviews of their project, only Mr. Rechler spoke on Tuesday, asking that the board close the hearing on the DEIS.
But much like most of the previous hearings, a long line of residents queued up to speak about the project, some in support of it, but most deeply critical.
“The townhouses, a final number to be determined later on, will change Hampton Bays” for the better, resident Bruce King said. “Over the long term, local house values will rise. It will add to the tax base without adding to school population. I think most of this criticism is emotions, based upon head-in-the-sand fact-finding.”
But Mr. King’s optimism about the changes the development would bring was countered by those who saw the townhouses as a path to the destruction of the traditional attraction of Hampton Bays.
“We do not want a Nassau County feel of overdevelopment to our community,” Carolyn Ellis said. “Once it’s gone, it’s lost forever. We believe the Rechlers are good people who should make a profit on their investment, but not at the expense of our community.”
The Rechlers originally had proposed to tear down the dilapidated Canoe Place Inn building, which was a luxury hotel in the 1920s but more recently a boisterous nightclub and bar, and replace it with a condominium development. But after some residents decried the destruction of the old building and rallied around its history, despite the fact that very little of the original building or architecture remains in the current structure, the developers proposed rehabilitating the building into a hotel, restaurant and convention center.
But they said the investment necessary to do that would not be justified by the potential profits of running the new facility alone, and thus proposed that they be allowed to build the 40 townhouses on the canal, which is currently zoned for commercial uses only, to make the Canoe Place Inn component feasible.
Initially, the plans were hailed as a saving grace for the Canoe Place Inn, but as the public hearings progressed, opposition to the residential development on the canal has mounted, and the voices of the historic preservation supporters began to be drowned out—though some still spoke loud and clear this week.
“I believe that in this modern society we have to keep the roots of our past while looking to the future,” said Jacques Ditte. “If you lose the CPI, you’ve lost the reason for a destination.”
The Town Board on Tuesday also approved the use of Community Preservation Fund money to purchase several parcels of land for preservation.
The town will buy the development rights on 9 acres of open fields off Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton from John Jiler for $3.1 million. The land is adjacent to two other, much larger preserved parcels totaling some 167 acres.
The town also approved the outright purchase of a half acre of land in Water Mill from the S.K. Feldbau Trust. The parcel is the last open lot on Mill Pond Lane, one parcel back from the waters of Mill Pond. The cost is $375,000 from the Community Preservation Fund.
A 0.6-acre parcel on West Tiana Road in Hampton Bays, comprised mostly of wetlands, also will be purchased from AT Properties LLC for $630,000. An existing structure on the property will be demolished, and the disturbed land will be returned to wetlands. The purchase is the first of its kind under a new allowance in the CPF code that allows for the purchase of waterfront lands to prevent damage to private property by strong storms.
The town accepted a pledge of money for the town’s Water Quality Protection Fund on Tuesday night. The pledge came from the West Hampton Dune Barrier Beach Preservation Association.
The association will contribute 10 percent of the money it raises through its Moriches Bay Oyster Project, a project partnership with First Coastal to help improve water quality in Moriches Bay.