Some East Hampton Residents Say Senior Housing Overlay District Is Not Needed

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More than a dozen East Hampton residents spoke up against a proposed Amagansett senior housing complex at a public hearing on the project at Town Hall last week.

The hearing was the climax of a months-long discussion about the controversial development and a new senior overlay zoning district that its developer had requested.

“Why should we be doing all this for them?” resident Averill Geus asked. “The condominium developments down south in New Jersey and Delaware are particularly horrible. Do we really want that here?”

The developer of the 555 senior citizen housing project, Putnam Amagansett Holdings, had requested to adjourn its public hearings just hours before the Town Board meeting, but were denied because the request came too late, according to Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.

Because of this, representatives for the developer were not present at the meeting to defend their project and its accompanying legislation. The firm’s attorney, Rick Whalen, left the meeting early.

Mr. Whalen ceded the podium to opponents of 555 and the senior housing overlay district, who said East Hampton does not need luxury senior housing and the new zoning district as proposed is unacceptable.

The application for the development of 555 called for the creation of 79 market-rate apartments and cottages on the former Principi property on Montauk Highway in Amagansett.

In October, the developer 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 and increase allowed density to four housing units per acre, with a maximum of 100 units for each development.

Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Planning Commission shot down the proposals because members said they were not in synch with East Hampton Town’s Comprehensive Plan, which is meant to prevent overdevelopment and help conserve agricultural land.

With no support behind them, Putnam Amagansett pulled the application to change the zoning at 555 from the East Hampton Town Planning Board agenda, but did not withdraw their applications in time from the public hearing process at the Town Board level.

Board members got an earful from those who don’t want to see such a development exist.

“The most important thing is that Amagansett is virtually unanimous—at least 1,000 people over the last few weeks responded [to a petition] and said they are against the overlay as it’s crafted and its application to 555,” Jeanne Frankl said at last Thursday’s East Hampton Town Board meeting.

Avrill Geus explained that her daughter, who lived in Virginia, didn’t have a city center. Instead it was complex upon complex. “Are we going to turn churches into apartment buildings and stores into 7-Elevens?” she said. “We’re rolling along and nobody is saying ‘no’ anymore.”

Ms. Geus pointed to the fact that what is needed more is a nursing home, not a condominium.

Others voiced a similar opinion, that instead of offering senior housing for those 55 and older, offering programs and services would be a more beneficial step.

“Since when is 55 senior?” asked Susan Harder. “There shouldn’t be more housing for out-of-town people. This should have never made it to a hearing.”

Paul Fiondella said that most senior citizens want to age in their own homes until it is impossible to live on their own. “Their main concern is the financial worry to provide for their needs and to afford to live in their own homes,” he said. “The town needs to pay attention to the needs of seniors, and a zoning ordinance is not the way to go about it. The way to go about it is to provide services in their homes.”

Ms. Frankl supported Mr. Fiondella’s argument saying that seniors in East Hampton do have needs, but a senior housing complex is not one of them.

“We need to be investigating the needs of senior citizens in town and getting all the statistics … about the needs of seniors,” she said. “Maybe you could have called me in, and I could’ve told you how old I am and what life is like, and how my husband has Parkinson’s … maybe you would have had people say, ‘I cannot imagine living out my old age on Montauk Highway.’”

Despite receiving backlash for voting the proposals to public hearing before they were hammered out, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley defended giving the public the opportunity to voice their opinions on the proposals, saying that it got the community talking about seniors’ needs and that legislation like a senior housing overlay district should be drafted by the public and not by a select few.

“Sure, it’s backward what happened here, and people are upset and freaking out,” she said during her last meeting as a member of the Town Board. “I don’t like the deliberate libel, people accusing us of certain things. But it’s OK. What I read is that everybody hates politicians and people are sick of the government, so let’s turn it upside down and get people talking.”

Bonnie Bistrian Krupinski said that what has been proposed should at least be a springboard. “Let’s take what’s been good and move forward,” she said.

After the members of the audience had their say, Ms. Quigley, council member Dominck Stanzione and Supervisor Wilkinson voted to keep the hearings open for written comment until February 6, with council members Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby both voting to close the hearing.

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