- Even though the village planning commission has acquired the architectural firm Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut and Kuhn to spearhead its master plan project, village residents are to be the driving force in creating a new vision for the heart of Southampton.
"We have no pre-conceptions, no style of architecture," Stan Eckstut, lead architect for the firm explained at a presentation open to the public "It's about the particular location, and we're happy with that."
At the Southampton Culture Center Thursday night, Eckstut, along with project leader LeAnn Shelton and designer Peter Seidel, introduced themselves to the public for the first time since the village planning commission recommended the firm to the Board of Trustees in June. In a casual presentation, Eckstut encouraged those in attendance, including Trustees Nancy McGann and Paul Robinson, to simply call out suggestions, answer questions and, most importantly, let him and his team know exactly what village residents deem Southampton's strengths and weaknesses.
"There are no bad ideas at this point," Eckstut assured the crowd. "We want to hear and listen to what others think we should be thinking about."
The consultants identified parking and retail growth as major talking points for
Topics brought up from the exchange covered a wide range of concerns including parking, commercialization and the influx of "box stores," lack of affordable housing, the conservation of Lake Agawam and other environmentally sensitive areas, the historical preservation in the village, and a sense of connectivity and ambiance to the village as a whole. Specifically, residents touched upon a growing concern that local staples, like the post office and village landmarks, like the Parrish Art Museum, are choosing to leave the heart of the downtown village for other areas of the township.
Eckstut, visiting Southampton for the first time, took the opportunity Thursday to also note what he identified as larger planning issues including village parking and retail needs and environmental aspects to future growth. In his estimation the prime focus is to address growth in the village with new guidelines in place to accommodate modern technologies that are in keeping with the historical look and feel of the village.
However, business and residential hopes for the village do not necessarily go hand in hand. Where some residents called for a convenient Main Street where multiple errands could be run in one trip, others called for the removal of cars from the road altogether. And as some criticized the appearance of CVS' sizeable parking lot at the main intersection of the village, others cited the necessity and availability for the pharmacy. And, when village Chamber of Commerce President Bob Schepps
spoke in favor of a vibrant business district, Eckstut emphasized that everyone needed to look at the big picture.
The conservation of Lake Agawam and preservation of the downtown
historic district were discussed at the meeting.
"The measure of good urban life is that nobody really gets what they want," Ecstut said, adding that despite this, the end product "is something worth being around for."
While collaboration with residents is vital for planning consultants, Siamak Samii, chair of the village planning commission, is concerned about creating a master plan before its too late.
"Time is of the essence," he stated seriously. According to Samii, the village has a history of zoning polices that are not in line with the actual development of Southampton. The commission chairman contends the village is taking the first step in what it wants, rather than waiting for a problem to arise on its own.
"We have had volatile years of trying to deal with development and addressing concerns," Samii explained. "We need an open eye to address issues of concern - and project how we want the village developed."
Eckstut's own vision, as he presented it Thursday night, is to create a space that emphasizes the public environment, while enhancing the good things that Southampton already has to offer. The main goal, he said, is to enliven the business district, mainly Main Street and Jobs Lane, which he called the "core area." In this enhancement, Eckstut says he wants to engage the public and ensure sustainable growth. Recently, the firm has taken this approach on other projects, such as saving New York's Battery Park City, stressing home ownership at Arverne-by-the-Sea in Queens, and expanding Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
"What's there before influences the new," Eckstut explained, stressing that the ultimate goal is a master plan that can be relevant for years to come. "We want to put an emphasis on variety, choices."
It was evident that the meeting Thursday night was just the beginning of a process. Over the next 12 weeks, Eckstut and members of the village planning commission will seek out the contribution of residents and business owners in formatting a vision for the future. For the remainder of the summer and into the early fall, the firm expects to work on its creative analysis, employing an anthropological method of observing first, to arrive at recommendations to better suit the future.
Eckstut would like to hold a second open workshop in the next month to answer questions, hear concerns and identify more ideas. Three weeks later, the firm plans to present a group of "first ideas" of the composite vision of the future of the village, and then present a draft of those plans the following week for public feedback. Once this process is completed, Eckstut and his team will set out to refine the plan and ultimately make a presentation in its entirety.
Residents are implored to participate in the public input process of the development of the new "vision" for Southampton Village.
A minimum of five public workshops, similar to the one held Thursday, will be conducted to garner public input according to Commissioner Samii.
"We want to meet on a regular basis and present work as we develop it," Eckstut noted.
Yet, to get participation, you must have people, and Samii emphasized the need to get the word out, and make sure that the entire community's concerns are represented. When Alfred Callahan, chairman of the village planning board, commented that, from the looks of the meeting's audience, one would think Southampton was a retirement community, Samii stressed the desire for input from as many community groups as possible.
"We should not rely on someone else to do what we want," he cautioned. "Spread the word."