A year-long ban on building in the town's most heavily trafficked and densely developed corridor may end sooner than expected, with no comprehensive development plan in place, if the Southampton Town Board votes to rescind a moratorium now in effect along County Road 39 four months before the July 22 expiration date.
The move to lift the ban just eight months after its enactment last summer with no vision for future development along the County Road 39 corridor in place has civic associations and members of the business community shaking their heads as they gear up to appear before the Board at the Tuesday, March 24 public hearing. They plan to encourage the Town to stay the course and keep the moratorium on the books.
Town officials, including Supervisor Linda Kabot
, maintain the moratorium is detrimental to business and should be lifted to help boost the economy. Kabot committed to lifting the ban in her State of the Town address in January citing the economic implications involved in delaying development. A growing number of contractors and builders seeking new projects in the deflated economy has called into question the need for continuance of the moratorium.
The Board plans to rescind the moratorium effective March 30 but will continue to employ planning and zoning firms hired as special consultants to carry on with studies aimed at determining the best ways to develop the roadway in order to arrive at an overall plan. Running from the termination of Sunrise Highway in Shinnecock Hills to Water Mill, where CR39 merges into Montauk Highway, the five-and-a-half mile thoroughfare is lined with strip malls, residential enclaves, subdivisions, motels, car dealerships, a college campus, an Elks Hall, and a wide assortment of fast food establishments and restaurants.
The five-and-a-half-mile stretch of road is straddled by residential subdivisions, sprawling strip malls, a college campus, and several restaurants and fast food emporiums.
A main thoroughfare leading into Southampton, the roadway also serves as a gateway to the eastern portion of The Hamptons that, over the past three decades has exploded in popularity, transforming the once quiet "bypass" into a commercial district of showrooms and service outlets. A natural outgrowth of downtown commerce, the strip offered developers the added benefit of roadside traffic and larger parcels of land that were once affordable. Today, the corridor is a hectic mix of commercial and residential use located on both sides of alternately two and four-lane highway where strip-zoning dating back to the 1970s has determined the prevailing visual aesthetic.
"Planning does not stop," Assistant Town Planner Freda Eisenberg said, "when building resumes." According to Eisenberg, planning and development move on parallel tracks. "We can do one, while we do the other."
County Road 39 was widened last year in a attempt to improve traffic flow by creating
more turning lanes along the thoroughfare.
The planning firms, Cashin Associates and ADL, hired by the town to study the corridor's development have not released any final reports. A citizen's task force established in 2008 to study future growth and development on the roadway, dubbed The County Road 39 Citizen's Advisory Committee, held two meetings in December 2008 that were largely organizational meetings. According to Eisenberg, a meeting to present the Advisory Committee with preliminary proposals from the town's paid consultants will be held on Monday, March 9, at the committee's next session.
The town's 'build now - plan later' stance reflected in the lifting of the ban has civic association leaders like Frank Zappone
shaking their heads. "To what end?" Zappone questioned. "What will we be studying after we lift a ban that had 22 exclusions in place and never really stopped anyone from doing anything? Why did we even bother to enact a moratorium? We haven't accomplished anything."
Businessman Bob Schepps
was equally ardent in his support of the CR39 moratorium. Schepps, president of the Southampton Town Chamber of Commerce is also a member of the CR39 Task Force. He owned and operated businesses on CR39 from 1985 to 1998 before relocating. "The moratorium was set up so development could stop and we could take a breath. What sense does it make to stop four months short of the deadline
with no plans for the future?" Schepps asserted.
The Southampton Hospital
Complex, now located in the Village of Southampton, is eyeing the Elks Property, a large tract of land on CR39. This major relocation, should it occur, is expected to have wide-reaching ramifications for this portion of the road.
Another project calling for the creation of a 40,000 square-foot King Kullen
supermarket along with additional retail space and 28 housing units on a 13-acre parcel of land off CR39 between Magee and Bishop Streets is also caught in the snare of the moratorium. This project calls for the creation of 10 units of affordable workforce housing, consisting of one bedroom and two bedroom units to be located above retail stores in the mixed used complex. The housing units will lead the complex fronting on the road simulating a "Main Street" hamlet effect while the large grocery store is to be situated to the rear portion of the "L" shaped property.
The heavily trafficked road by-passes downtown Southampton Village providing a gateway to the eastern portion of the Hamptons where the road merges with Montauk Highway in Water Mill, at what is now a well-known local bottleneck during peak traffic hours.
"We are trying to create a hamlet center of sorts," King Kullen developer and Vice President of Real Estate Edward Glacken said from his office at King Kullen Corporate Headquarters in Bethpage
. Glacken is a principal in the project that enjoys mixed reviews from the community. Last year he met with Zappone and members of the Shinnecock-Tuckahoe Civic Association to discuss the project.
"It could work out," Zappone said recalling Glacken was very open and willing to discuss his project with the community last year.
"We are hoping this moratorium will be lifted," Glacken said, indicating he planned to attend the March 24 public hearing. "I will be there, but I am not sure if I am going to make a statement." Glacken completed his paperwork last spring before the July 2008 moratorium went into effect but has not been able to move his project forward while his file sits in Town Hall. "This project will create hundreds of jobs in its construction phase and hundreds more jobs when it is completed," Glacken noted. "Our application is just sitting there. We are still confident in the current business climate and we are willing to go ahead.
Zappone pointed to the exemptions in the law regarding the moratorium noting the existence of a procedure in place allowing developers to apply for exemptions. "A $500 filing fee to apply for an exemption is nothing to King Kullen," Zappone commented. "I spend more than that in King Kullen in a month."
The cost of groceries along with everything else being the prevalent topic of conversation these days, both Schepps and Zappone noted the economic downturn may create its own moratorium as investors and developers pull back or cancel plans to embark on new projects due to lack of financing or confidence.
"The economy will discourage a lot of development," Schepps said, noting the 10 to 12 vacant stores for rent he sees daily on CR39. "You have to ask yourself, Are we going to go ahead and build more stores that will remain vacant for years? Where's the planning? We want to see some smart growth and planning."
Schepps plans to attend the public hearing. "I will take the podium," Schepps said, clearly prepared to voice his concerns.