By Mara Certic
East Hampton residents and town board members remain at odds over proposed legislation that would require formula or “chain” stores to acquire special permits.
The legislation was introduced in an effort to maintain the rural character of the town and would require a business franchise with more than 15 stores in the United States to apply for a special use permit.
A lifelong resident of Amagansett, Elaine Jones, passed around a petition after the last public hearing on the topic and said she got 227 signatures in four days. She added that no one refused to sign it and that she could get more signatures. “There are those who say formula stores are good for the economy, she said during an East Hampton Town Board work session on Tuesday, August 5. “If that’s true, why do so many stay for the summer and leave in the winter? They take their money with them and they don’t spend it here.”
“Change the character of East Hampton for the good of the people, not the great of the few,” she said.
Rona Klopman, also of Amagansett, said that she too passed around a petition. There were two people who did not sign her petition, she said, because they wanted another Starbucks.
In truth, under the proposed legislation a Starbucks would be allowed to open a store if it was distinct from its other stores, and was built in a way that fit into its surroundings so as not to distract from the traditional feel of East Hampton.
Susan Borgida, an owner of UPS stores in East Hampton and Sag Harbor, said she was troubled by the definition of formula stores in the legislation. “I don’t disagree with a lot of your points and your positions,” she said. She insisted that “you can’t judge a place of business by this definition,” adding that her UPS store is locally owned and managed, and that she and her husband make all of the decisions. “If you pass this legislation, we will not be able to put a UPS store in Montauk” without getting a permit, she said. She added that she would not be able to pay the lease on a space while waiting for a six-to-eight month permitting process to be completed.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby assured her that the permitting process would be much shorter than that and would likely only take a matter of weeks, not months.
Philip Young expressed concern over a part of the legislation that would only allow one formula business per lot. Mr. Young owns the Wainscott Shopping Center, and said that he thought it unfair that the town could decide who and what stores he could allow in his complex, adding that stores such as Barry’s Boot Camp and Aboff’s Paint now fall under the town’s definition of formula stores but had not when they opened in his complex.
Assistant town attorney Beth Baldwin explained a new revision to the law, which would allow half of the stores on a multi-business complex to be formula stores.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said the revision reduced his concerns about the law, but Councilman Fred Overton said that he would not be able to support the legislation as written, adding that he did not feel that there had been “overwhelming support” for the law. Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said that she, too, was “struggling with this legislation as written.”
Both Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby support the law as currently proposed. “The additional review to prevent cookie-cutter suburban commercial development in East Hampton is necessary and I think it’s warranted and I support it,” Mr. Cantwell said.
The board will vote on the legislation when it meets on Thursday, August 21.