By Annette Hinkle
For years, Bridgehampton residents have speculated about what might become of several acres of vacant land on Montauk Highway across from Kimco’s Bridgehampton Commons. A few years ago, Barnes and Noble, which owned property there, was looking to build a large bookstore and possibly other structures on the site. But that plan fell apart and the various parcels were sold.
Not much has happened since, except the operation of the Carvel on one parcel and the continued deterioration of a long abandoned restaurant next door.
But last Thursday, a team from Konner Friedlander Architects went before the Southampton Town Planning Board to present pre-submission plans to construct two buildings for a fitness facility and associated parking on an 8.1 acre parcel just east of Carvel.
The property, which includes the derelict restaurant, fronts Kellis Pond, a freshwater wetlands, to the south with two acres in the town’s highway business zone and the remain six acres in a residential 60 zone. The property is owned by Greg Konner and his mother, Carol Konner, and on Monday, he brought their plans to the monthly meeting of the Bridgehampton CAC so members could weigh in on the proposal.
“There have been lots of rumor and confusion,” said Konner. “I’m here to answer questions.”
Konner explained that because town code limits the size of commercial buildings to 15,000 square feet, the architects are proposing not one, but two separate buildings — one would be 13,000 square feet, the other 14,000 square feet — for a total of 27,000 feet of retail space. There would also be 150 parking spaces (figuring 180 square feet of retail space per spot).
Because it’s zoned highway business, Konner explained there are limitations to the type of businesses that may operate there, which is why Barnes and Noble encountered problems when trying to develop the site.
“Highway business district doesn’t allow for shopping center like Kimco – it does allow things like health clubs, movie theaters, furniture stores, appliance stores, restaurants and banks,” he said. “It’s different than a mall and basically things you can’t put in your trunk.”
Konner noted a tenant has already committed to leasing the two buildings — New York City based Equinox Fitness which offers personal training, fitness classes, health club activities and spa services.
Konner said no variances are required for the project and while more of the site could eventually be developed, there are no specific plans now for the western part of the parcel beyond demolition of the restaurant and landscaping of the area along the highway.
“We want to take the restaurant down sooner rather than later,” said Konner. “We just didn’t want to take it down and lose a right to build. Now that we’ve got assurances it won’t hurt us, it will come down. There are a lot of homeless who take refuge there. It’s become a hazard.”
“I was at the meeting Thursday night,” noted Bridgehampton CAC co-chair Cathie Gandel. “I commented I had driven by the Commons west to east, and I noticed that wonderful wild buffer on the left side. You don’t see the back of the Gap or the other stores and I think we’re looking for the same hidden treatment.”
Some in attendance expressed confusion over an online sales flyer which has been circulating showing a number of retail buildings planned for the site beyond the two Equinox would lease. But Konner explained the flyer was a marketing piece created by real estate brokers testing the market.
“That was something they did quickly to check interest,” responded Konner. “It was nothing we set forth.”
From a design perspective, Konner explained the buildings would reflect the agricultural heritage of the area and be barnlike in design.
“It won’t be square boxes and cinder blocks,” said Konner who envisions clapboard or shingle siding and a metal or shingled roof. The buildings would also not exceed the 32-foot maximum house height allowed in Southampton Town.
Konner explained the primary entrance to the development would be at the existing traffic light leading into the Bridgehampton Commons. A second “right in, right out” access point is proposed further to the west, which would ensure only traffic traveling east on Montauk Highway could access and exit the property from that spot.
A question arose about a PDD (planned development district) study done 10 years ago when Barnes and Noble owned the property which suggested inclusion of affordable housing or a community center at the site.
“But when Barnes and Noble lost control of the property, it fizzled and died,” said Konner. “The PDD failed.”
Konner added that his team would be willing to consider including a component on the site that would represent a benefit to the community.
“That would not be objected to on our part,” he said. “But we have to come up with something.”
Written comments on the pre-submission application will remain open at Southampton Town Hall for 30 days.