- The Southampton Town Board extended a ban on building in the hamlet of Hampton Bays until the end of the year by a vote of 4 to 0 at a special session Friday, July 10. The six month extension due to expire on Dec. 31, was enacted after a year-long ban halting construction in the downtown hamlet center expired on June 30th without a definitive plan in place.
The town hired an outside consulting firm at a cost of $100,000 to assist with the process related to the growth of the town's most densely populated corridor once known as Good Ground. The area ranges from the western portion of the hamlet along Montauk Highway and ends just before the Shinnecock Canal.
Morrow offered to provide any additonal information the board wanted to explain his project.
Large scale development is in the offing as plans for the conversion of motels into year-round condominiums make their way to town hall along with projects calling for the development of a 19.5 acre parcel on Montauk Highway in the western portion of the hamlet. The project known as Tiana Commons proposed by real estate developer Robert "Rob" Morrow calls for the creation of a 72 unit condominium complex. The "mixed use" project additionally calls for the creation of 20 rental apartments that would be located over retail space in the Tiana Commons development. If the project moves forward, eventually 92 new housing units would be built. A total of 16 condos and 11 rental apartments would be set aside for low to moderate income residents. A post office would be located on the Commons along with recreational areas set aside as green space.
Plans calling for the creation of a 75 unit resort community at the well-known Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays has created concern among residents as well. A movement to preserve the historic building from development surfaced recently as word of the project spread.
Community activists pressed for an extension of the moratorium noting the town was slow to start the process. Real estate developers opposed further delays citing the need to keep projects moving to save jobs in building and construction in the sluggish economy. Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray cautioned the Board noting moratoriums were emergency measures that could not be enacted lightly or extended indefinitely.
"A moratorium is the most extreme example of an estoppel," Murray said, pointing to case law. "You have to have an emergency to declare a moratorium." Once a moratorium is enacted, town officials must use the time provided them to resolve emergency issues that justified or necessitated the time out.
Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot
echoed these sentiments noting the town could not continue to extend moratoriums. "This has to be the sunset date," Kabot said.
Mary Jean Green and Eve Houlihan confer at town hall after the Hampton Bays moratorium was extended.
"I have $7 million tied up in this project," real estate developer Rob Morrow
said referring to his plans to develop Tiana Commons on Montauk Highway in the western portion of Hampton Bays. "I am paying $600,000 a year in property taxes," he added. Morrow developed the portion of Hampton Bays that now houses the King Kullen
Supermarket and Shopping Center on Montauk Highway in the eastern section of the hamlet.
The construction of large scale supermarkets, banks and malls in the hamlet in the last decade have altered the face of the downtown hamlet center that sprawls out on both sides of Montauk Highway.
"If you don't want my project, just let me know," Morrow said as he offered up a $40,000 aerial simulation he made a few years ago. "You can take a look at it if you haven't seen it yet. I'm a little bent out of shape that I have been excluded from the public arena."
Mary Jean Green, president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association (HBCA) pressed for the extension. "It's a no-brainer," Green said. "We are pointed in the right direction. The study has to be completed or everything is just a waste of time and money."
Eve Houlihan, of the HBCA favored the extension as well while she was critical of the delays involved during the moratorium. "We did not have an informational meeting until November 2008," Houlihan said of the year-long ban. "Then we had a short meeting in December." There have been a total of seven meetings since the moratorium was enacted according to Houlihan. "We haven't gotten any further than talking about colors," Green added. "Now its summertime and it will be very difficult to set up these meetings."
The HBCA plans to meet twice a month to make the deadline
for the draft statement. "What happens in Hampton Bays will affect the entire town," Green said. Jennifer Hartnagel expressed support for the extension on behalf of the Group for the East End
. "I think we should set more realistic time frames, that way we wouldn't need extensions," Hartnagel commented hoping her suggestion would be helpful in the future.
"We have to weigh the public benefit against the developers' economic return here," political activist Alex Gregor
said supporting the extension. "These large projects have to be looked at carefully."
Morrow's plans for the creation of the Tiana Commons have been in the works since 2004. Town Planner Jefferson Murphree noted his office received eight applications for exemptions during the Hampton Bays moratorium before its June expiration date. His office granted five of these requests, denied one, and dismissed two requests that were filed too recently to be considered.
The extension will give planners two and half months to formulate a draft plan that must be finalized by October, prior to the year end deadline of Dec. 31. Kabot noted the October deadline was not a goal. "It is a mandate," Kabot said.
Kabot pointed to the lifting of a moratorium on County Road 39 earlier this year prior to the official end of that 12 month ban on construction in what is arguably the town's most developed corridor. "What kind of a message are we sending," Kabot said, "when we lift one ban before its expiration and extend another ban beyond its sunset date. We have to be consistent."
The CR-39 moratorium was rescinded before planners completed their work however town officials noted the lifting of the ban would not halt the planning studies in progress. In Quogue, a moratorium was in effect for two years before coming to an end in 2008. Town officials spent $250,000 on outside consultations during that moratorium.