The nice old house and outbuildings at 208 Montauk Highway in Amagansett had been for sale for quite a while with no buyer emerging when the owner approached East Hampton Town Hall for help. The result is a hearing at East Hampton Town Hall tonight on a zone change that just might hasten a closing. But the request, to go from a residential designation with a limited-business overlay within the Amagansett Historic District to full-on commercial, should be rejected.
Formerly Balasses House Antiques, the site had been occupied more recently by an ambitious and fascinating gallery, one that enjoyed a strong following for its many events. But the asking price of $2.6 million is apparently on the high side for the economics of the office, salon, gallery, or antiques shop uses allowed under current zoning, or at least that is what the lack of a buyer suggests. A second-floor apartment in the main building is an increasingly rare commodity, though not quite income-producing enough either.
So sometime last year the unidentified owner approached the former town board majority, seeking to have the roughly half-acre property rezoned to central business, a more or less anything-goes designation, rather than chop the price to something more reasonable. In an L.B.O., as the limited business zone is known, you have to figure a $2.6 million sale isn’t going to happen; in central business, well, ka-ching, ka-ching. And that was the tune to which the former town board majority danced. Only a technical error delayed a hearing and probable yes vote before the end of their term.
East Hampton Town’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 2005, flat-out says no to rezoning any parcels in Amagansett for new commercial development. The current town board need look no further for justification in denying the request. Moreover, the town should tread very lightly when it comes to properties in any of its critically important historic districts.
The Balasses House request should be a test for Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the rest of the newly constituted board in putting community interests first and respecting the work of those who came before them. In the end, property owners’ problems in inking a deal at a price of their own choosing is not enough to justify changing zoning, overriding the comprehensive plan, or undermining historic preservation goals.