Though there have been many meetings on the changing face of the gateway into Sag Harbor from Bridgehampton, Tuesday’s Southampton Town Board meeting was the first public hearing since the plan was amended in December to include a larger study area.
The Gateway Study, as it has come to be known, is an examination by Southampton Town of the area immediately south of the village along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike and it recommends that town officials look at the area for possible re-zoning.
Currently, the area is zoned as highway business (HB), but is under consideration by the town board to be changed to hamlet office (HO). If that zoning change happens, large highway businesses such as lumber yards or car dealerships —Â which are currently allowed — would be prohibited.
While the public hearings on the Gateway Study in the past have been lengthy with speakers both for and against the change having their say, Tuesday’s meeting took on quite a different feel. The statements were kept short – all speakers except one having spoken on the record about the issue in the past.
Jefferson Murphree, town planning and development administrator, who explained the current status of the project to the meeting room on Tuesday, outlined the goals of the Gateway Study. According to Murphree, one of the biggest reasons for proposed zoning change is the potential environmental impact that an HB zone could bring to the area.
“Zoning can do a lot in this case,” said Murphree, “through the zone change we can better achieve land uses.”
Eric Cohen – a member of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) – who represented the John Jermain Library at the hearing, expressed gratitude to the town board for considering the change. He said the library is supportive of the re-zoning. Cohen pointed to a map and showed where the library is hoping to build an annex on the turnpike near Mashashimuet Park.
“Highway Business would tend to encourage a lot of truck traffic and with a library in that area we need to take steps to ensure the children are protected,” he said.
Only one speaker spoke out against the proposal on Tuesday. John Landis, owner of Bay Burger, a restaurant on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, argued the change of zone would eliminate possible business options for properties located within the study area. Landis said if the area were to switch to HO, he would not be allowed to return his establishment to the wholesale bakery it was prior to his purchase of the property. Nor, he added, could it be used as an outpatient care facility. He further argued that the HB zone would allow 82 different types of uses, and HO would only allow 15.
“I would always be concerned of any change and reducing employment opportunities,” Landis said.
Town supervisor Linda Kabot called the public hearing a “re-do” because the study area was expanded after the last public hearing in December to include four additional residential properties, not originally included in the study. Kabot put out a vote to roll over all the previous information from the earlier public hearings into the record. It was unanimously adopted.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi said the four additional properties — all zoned R-20, a purely residential designation — petitioned the town to be included in the study area.
Priscilla Ciccariello, also a member of the Sag Harbor CAC, said she is in favor of the zone change. Ciccariello has spoken on the record at town board meetings many times in the past, arguing why she believes the zone should change to HO. One of her main arguments has been the environmental impact zoning might have on Ligonee Brook, which runs adjacent to the properties in the study area. On Tuesday, however, she also said the zone change would be great for what may be built in the area in the future. She discussed both the library and the building site of the new Sag Harbor United Methodist Church – which is within 500 feet of this study area. She said for both these reasons there should be traffic calming in the area.
“It will help to set a nice character for this area,” said Ciccariello, “we are really reaching for a nice character and opening to the village.”
Noticeably absent from the public hearing was Robert Reid, owner of Reid Brothers Inc, an automotive repair shop in the area who has been speaking against the zone change from the very beginning. The Reid family was collectively arguing the change in zoning would reduce certain business opportunities for them.
At the Sag Harbor CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee) meeting on Friday March 6, CAC chairman John Linder noted the re-zoning of the gateway area would be a “crowning achievement” for the CAC. With the Gateway Study, Linder felt the town board seriously considered the concerns of local CACs and looked to them as legitimate advisory boards, which Linder said was a departure from the previous relationship between the town board and the CACs.
In an effort to work more closely with CACs and members of the public, Nuzzi attended the CAC meeting and said “I give credit to the Sag Harbor CAC for this study … the CACs exist for a reason. They are made up of residents who live and work in the community, and they should always be encouraged to participate in the process.”
Because the Gateway Study would affect the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the county needs to review the document. According to Murphree, the town is now waiting to hear back from the Suffolk County Planning Board and the Suffolk County Planning Commission. The public hearing on the Gateway Study was adjourned for two weeks and will be on the agenda again on March 24 at 6 p.m.