Bridgehampton residents descended on the Southampton Town Board in force to oppose a CVS Pharmacy at the hamlet’s busiest intersection. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz
By Stephen J. Kotz
The news that the pharmacy giant CVS wants to build a store on the busiest intersection in Bridgehampton has been the talk of the hamlet in recent months, with volunteers proffering petitions at the Bridgehampton Post Office and even starting a Facebook page, Save Bridgehampton Main Street, in opposition.
On Tuesday night, residents took their fight to the Southampton Town Board, where many of them had worked themselves into an ornery mood after they were forced to wait as part of a standing room audience through more than two hours of public hearings before they got their chance to speak.
Their frustration was only stoked when Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst repeatedly tried to explain to them that the town board had no jurisdiction over the matter and that they would be better off taking their gripes to the planning board when and if it entertains an application for the property on the northwest corner of the Montauk Highway and Bridgehampton Turnpike.
“CVS is a radical proposal, aggravating a saturated situation,” said Nancy Walter-Yvertes, who is also a co-chairwoman of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, which has been voicing its opposition to the project for months. She said the corner would be better suited to a building with small shops or offices, or even a public green, instead of the 9,000-square-foot CVS rumored to be on the way.
A recent poll of 24 Main Street merchants found them all opposed to the idea, and more than 90 percent of the people asked to sign a petition opposing the possible development did so, she added.
Norm Lowe, another CAC member, said he found the town board to be “disingenuous” and charged that town employees were willing to “trash” the comprehensive plan to grease the skids for a CVS. Mr. Lowe said he had been particularly rankled to learn that chief building inspector Michael Benincasa, had met with CVS representatives to discuss their options for the site with them.
“In the end, he was counseling CVS on the shenanigans they could pull to get around the limit,” he said.
Ms. Throne-Holst later stressed that town officials did not deny that Mr. Benincasa may have spoken to CVS. “That’s part of our job here, that is part of the service we provide,” she said, whether it be a corporation or an individual asking questions about what needs to be done to get a building permit.
At one point, Ms. Throne-Holst called upon Kyle Collins, the town’s director of land management, to provide an overview of the situation. “I think we need to clarify something at this point. I don’t want all of you to waste your time and breath,” she said, as she looked out over the sea of faces filling the meeting room. “First of all, it is not a town board matter, it is a planning matter,” she said, “We have a separation of church and state, for lack of a better term.”
Mr. Collins told the audience that a building permit is in place for the shell of a 9,000-square-foot building, which can have several uses as allowed in the village business zone as long as none of them occupy any more than 5,000 square feet. If that were the case, it would trigger the need to apply for a special exception permit from the planning board, he said.
“We do not currently have an application, even for the buildout of the site,” he said, adding that if an application came in that called for a use of less than 5,000 square feet, it would qualify for a building permit with no further review.
“I find it interesting that a lease has already been signed off on with a company that is not interested in developing a property that is under 5,000 square feet,” said Paul Orenstein, the owner of the Main Street-based Hampton Briggs Antiques. “It’s putting the cart before the horse in that there is already a lease with the hope of getting the exception.”
Mr. Orenstein added that traffic is already a nightmare at the corner and that that there had been recent efforts to save historic buildings like the Rogers House, owned by the Bridgehampton Museum, and the Topping-Rose House, which has been converted into a high-end restaurant and inn.
“The thought of putting a franchise pharmacy and sundries store at the entrance to Bridgehampton, I think, is a travesty,” he said.
Eric Lemonides, the owner of Almond restaurant and a resident of Lumber Lane, echoed that theme, saying the store would bring in heavy traffic and not fit in with the character of Bridgehampton. He said would-be customers would be less likely to frequent his restaurant if it were “across the street from a place that is selling cigarettes, condoms and Red Bull.”
Gloria Berkoski, a Lumber Lane resident, limited her concerns to traffic, saying there was simply not enough space for cars to get in and out of the parking lot. “In my mind things like that shouldn’t be put there just for traffic reasons alone,” she said. “And that’s not even taking into consideration the trade parade every day.”
Bonnie Lowe, a CAC member, said she had heard rumors that CVS had been “counseled to break up into two corporations, one to sell their junk food, one for their pharmacy.” Mr. Collins replied that even if it did that it would still require a special exception permit.
Fred Cammann, a longtime CAC member, said that people had come to the town board because “they are scared to death” the planning board will approve it.
“In the opinion of 90-percent of Bridgehampton if this exception is granted, it will be politics that dictated it,” he added.
“What I’m hearing is a real lack of confidence in our community,” said Julie Burmeister, another CAC member. “That’s our fear, that somehow we are going to get steamrolled. That’s why we are here.”
But Ms. Throne-Holst repeated that it was not a town board decision and that the BCAC had supported the design of the building, which replaced the old Bridgehampton Beverage store. “The Bridgehampton community actually supported that building. Let’s be clear on that,” she said, repeating that the community’s only line of defense was with the planning board.
“I think it works very well for you that there are two members of the planning board who live in Bridgehampton,” she added.