East Hampton Town’s proposed formula store law drew strong support at the first public hearing on the measure on Thursday, April 17, especially from the Amagansett community.
Just two months after 7-Eleven was given a building permit to move into a building in that hamlet, only to have it later rescinded, the proposed law comes as relief to opponents of the convenience store.
But others, like business leaders in the community, including 7-Eleven, say they are concerned that the law, in effect, will prohibit chain stores and thus limit commerce in East Hampton Town.
The law, introduced by Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, defines a formula business as a type of retail sales establishment, including restaurants, which is under common ownership or control, or is a franchise, and is one of 10 or more other businesses worldwide that has a standardized menu or merchandise. Also, 50 percent or more of its inventory must come from a single distributor, and it must have a trademark that distinguishes the source of the goods and a standardized color, interior decor and uniforms worn by its employees.
The law proposes that a formula business cannot be in a historic district, within a mile of a historic district, or within a half mile of any designated historic building. The businesses also are limited to within a central business district.
The law wouldn’t prohibit formula stores outside of that, although such businesses would require full site plan approval. When before the Planning Board, the formula store must be granted a special permit by proving that it is compatible with existing surrounding uses and will not be obtrusive to the community’s rural and historic character in operation and aesthetics.
Some applauded the town’s attempt at limiting outside businesses coming into East Hampton, because, they said, they do not fit in with the town’s character and typically do not support the community, financially or otherwise.
“What scares me is that formula stores have an endless amount of money controlled by someone far away,” resident Sue Avedon said. “Big corporations can pay really high rents and are really going to squeeze local businesses out, because the rents keep going up and local businesses can’t afford it.”
Amagansett resident Betty Mazur said it only makes sense to put restrictions on such businesses, and the town has done its job.
“I have to live under certain guidelines and restrictions—I don’t see why we shouldn’t expect our town, which has the right under our comprehensive plan, to ask for certain guidelines in businesses so they don’t undo all the hard work we’ve done as a community,” she said. “This is a powerful protection for the quality of life for business and residents.”
Others agreed that to do something now would be better than to wait and “weep about it later,” in John Broderick’s opinion.
“It has been said that the town is targeting one particular chain that wants to appear here,” he said, referring to the 7-Eleven proposed in Amagansett. “To say those events motivated the town to attack that particular chain is wrong. That’s how legislation is created. All legislation is motivated by events.”
With that, the senior real estate representative for 7-Eleven, Theresa Codispoti, took to the podium to read a statement on behalf of Ken Barnes, the regional development director at 7-Eleven.
“Being a good neighbor and a corporate citizen is part of doing business at 7-Eleven, and we’ve tried to demonstrate that commitment in East Hampton—our 7-Eleven store in Montauk is owned and operated by a native Long Islander who is passionate and enthusiastic about preserving the character of the community,” she read from the statement. “Whether on the busiest days of August or the coolest evenings in January, Chris Stephens’s customers know that the Montauk store will be open to serve them.”
She went on to say that the people who shop there are the people who “make East Hampton tick,” but are finding it more difficult to find an affordable place to get a cup of coffee or snack.
“The Town of East Hampton already has some of the most restrictive zoning laws in the entire nation,” she stated. “Rather than passing additional restrictions on stores and restaurants, we encourage the town and zoning board members to enforce the laws that are already on books. We’ve worked with many local municipalities across the nation to customize our stores’ look and feel, seamlessly weaving them into the fabric of the community.”
She said 7-Eleven wants to help keep East Hampton’s commercial areas diverse and vibrant.
Opponents of the new law argued the same.
Bonnie Krupinski said the town needs to realize that formula stores are here to stay and should rework some of the proposal.
“I think, as a landlord, it’s a little draconian,” she said. “These business models are the types of uses we’re going to be dealing with. Amagansett doesn’t look like it did when I was a child, but that is just where it’s going. We need to maintain our community and need formula-type businesses to sustain the community.”
Amagansett Attorney Tina Piette said the town needs to do a study to discern what the community needs before changing the law, and argued that the town may not even have the authority to pass such a law. She mentioned a bill that State Assemblyman Fred Thiele had sponsored that would give the go-ahead for municipalities to adopt formula store legislation, but said that hasn’t passed the State Legislature yet, so there is no rush to create new restrictions.
On Monday, Mr. Thiele said that bill is still in the Local Governments Committee of each house of the State Legislature, but if it passes, it would allow local municipalities to regulate formula stores only if the intent is to protect the rural character and quality of life, not if the intent is to protect local businesses.
Under the state legislation, a formula business would be defined as a retail store that has 10 or more locations across the U.S. and has standardized merchandise, a standardized facade, decor and color scheme, a uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a service mark. Additionally, the law would allow the regulation, restriction or prohibition of formula retail uses depending on the comprehensive plan of a municipality.
“East Hampton, based on its efforts to promote rural and historic resources, has an excellent chance to succeed,” Mr. Thiele said. “However, there has not been a case in New York State on this issue.”
He said the legislature has been stalled on this bill because chain stores and business groups have lobbied against it. He said there are some who believe the law is unnecessary because local government already possesses the authority under the State Municipal Home Rule Law.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Monday that the Town Board still has work to do on the proposed local legislation and will weigh the details of the current proposal and think about changes based on what was said at Thursday’s public hearing. He said he expects the Town Board will discuss it again at a future Tuesday work session.