By Mara Certic
East Hampton Town residents are divided over proposed legislation that would potentially limit the number of formula businesses from Wainscott to Montauk.
Advocates and opponents gathered at an East Hampton Town Board meeting on Thursday, July 17, to offer their opinions of the new law, which is intended to impose restrictions on chain stores to help the town meet its preservation goals.
JoAnne Pahwul, assistant planning director, explained the most recent revisions to the law. Eliminated from it are provisions that would have prohibited formula businesses from opening within a mile of a historic district or within a half mile of a historic building.
The law has also been provided with an updated the use table, allowing formula businesses with a special permit not only in a central business district, but also in neighborhood business and waterfront zoning districts as well.
A formula business, defined by the law, is any store or restaurant that is part of a chain of 15 or more other businesses or establishments within the United States.
Although the board closed the hearing last Thursday, it took no action on the proposed law.
Susan Borgida spoke out against the legislation as the almost hour-long public hearing began. She and her husband, Chet, own the UPS stores in East Hampton and Sag Harbor, which, she said, fall under the category of a formula business. One of her criticisms of the law is that the board is “taking a variety of businesses,” she said, and lumping them together.
“Our goal is to deliver extraordinary customer service,” she said, adding that the store recently won a bid to do the printing services for the East Hampton Union Free School District. Her stores “fit right in with the rural feel of our communities,” she said.
“The UPS store is an example of a formula store that is in touch with the community,” said Katie Casey during Thursday’s meeting. “They understand what the East Hampton aesthetic is. We won’t always be that lucky.” Ms. Casey added that traveling to Riverhead remains an option for those who need the competitive prices and extensive uses of big-box stores.
Several members of the East Hampton Business Alliance spoke out against the law, saying that it is too “far-reaching.”
Laurie Wiltshire, who previously served as the president of the EHBA, warned the board that with the implementation of the law, many other businesses will become both pre-existing and nonconforming. She added that this would be a huge financial impediment: “it could mean bankruptcy for commercial business owners,” she said.
“My heart does not go out to the landlords who own stores and own the properties on Main Street and Newtown Lane,” said Larry Mayer. Mr. Mayer added that those who are proposing not to regulate businesses are “short-sighted.”
“We’re becoming more and more a year-round community, and there’ll be more reason for formula stores to say ‘Hey, we’ve got business 12 months a year in East Hampton. We should go there and we should open up a store because we can make some money there,” he said. Having fewer chain stores would lower the rent of commercial buildings, allowing mom & pop stores to flourish, he said.
Stanley Redlus agreed that it is important to maintain the rural character of the community but that we are now part of a larger global economy. Formula businesses “offer the American dream of entrepreneurship,” he said, while start-ups in retail take from three to five years on average to turn a profit.
A member of the Planning Board, Job Potter said that he was speaking on his own behalf and that he had “nothing but respect for the opinions expressed.”
He read aloud a letter he wrote in support of the legislation. “Across this country and world, we see an overwhelming trend towards standardization and dominance of small businesses by large corporations,” he said.
“The often unrecognized result is a great loss of local character and opportunity for private individuals to create and succeed with small businesses,” he continued.
“It is increasingly difficult to make a living without working for someone else, or more accurately, something else: a corporation. We can make a difference at a local level,” he added.
Elaine Jones, who described herself as a proud resident of Amagansett for 71 years, said, “This is not the first battle that we’ve fought.” She said over the years, she has had to fight to maintain the character of her neighborhood.
“Each business that wants to come to our town should have to go through a process,” she said. “And if they don’t, then we’re going to look like every other town.”
“I can’t see East Hampton Town changing because if it does, then I don’t really want to live here anymore. And I hate to say that,” she said.