The East Hampton Town Board moved incrementally forward Tuesday on a plan to relocate the town’s shellfish hatchery from Fort Pond Bay in Montauk to a property at the corner of Gann Road and Babe’s Lane in Springs that was acquired for $2.1 million last year with community preservation fund money, though one member and a neighbor of the proposed site urged a slower and more deliberate approach.
Councilman David Lys had previously unveiled a plan to develop a combined educational center and exemplar of environmentalism and sustainability at the 1.1-acre property, where the hatchery would sit contiguous to its nursery grow-out site in Three Mile Harbor.
Dubbed the Gann Road Environmental Education and Nature Center, or GREEN Center, the plan calls for solar panels and walkways, a low-nitrogen septic system, rainwater collection, rain garden, bioswales, a permeable reactive barrier, and permeable pavement on Gann Road to capture runoff before it enters the harbor.
The hatchery is at present housed in a World War II-era warehouse designed for use by the Navy. The site is at high risk for flooding, and the oceanic waters of Fort Pond Bay do not support shellfish grow-out, as was initially hoped. Transporting juvenile shellfish from Montauk to Three Mile Harbor stresses the filter-feeding bivalves and leads to high mortality, as much as 45 percent in the case of scallops, according to Mr. Lys’s presentation on Tuesday. This loss represents almost two billion fewer gallons of water filtering by the bivalves per year, he said, hence the impetus to consolidate the hatchery and nursery. Fuel and labor costs would also be saved by a consolidation, he said.
The new center could also house an aquaculture classroom and meeting space for the town’s water quality technical advisory committee, the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, and volunteer training for water quality projects and other initiatives.
The town was awarded a $400,000 Empire State Development grant, which the board agreed in March would be allocated toward design, permitting, and preliminary construction costs for the new facility, which would have an estimated total cost of $2.65 million.
But on Tuesday, Councilman Jeff Bragman raised multiple objections to what he called the board’s rush to build the new hatchery, after Mr. Lys had presented a scale model of the site, including a 2,500-square-foot existing house that would serve as the learning center and a new, one-story hatchery structure that would minimize mass and be screened with vegetation so as not to affect the character of the residential neighborhood. The board has engaged engineering and architecture firms as well as the town’s planning staff, the Natural Resources Department, Marine Patrol, neighborhood residents, and fishermen who use the commercial dock at the end of Gann Road, Mr. Lys said.
Mr. Bragman said that the proposed hatchery structure, which could be 5,000 square feet, was too large for the parcel, particularly given the existing 2,500-square-foot house there. “Although we are talking about it as preliminary and conceptual,” he said, “it looks like the cart is before the horse already.” An engineering study is “grossly premature,” he said. “I would not be in favor of hiring an architect to move on engineering, anything that moves us in a direction of how we’re going to build the building.”
The plan “does not have dimensions, a scale, a parking plan, a size of septic system, and these are fundamental facts that should be dealt with,” Mr. Bragman said. The proposal should be referred to the planning board as soon as possible, he said, to which Mr. Lys said that would happen on Aug. 14. “I’d like to see the planning board also notify all neighbors formally, so we’re not doing this anecdotally,” Mr. Bragman said. He also criticized “taking a residential lot and converting it to commercial use,” which he said would set a precedent.
Before and during the discussion, Ira Barocas, a neighbor of the proposed hatchery site, said that quality-of-life issues must be seriously considered. Increased traffic in an area that already houses the commercial dock and Bostwick’s on the Harbor, a restaurant, “can have deleterious effect on quality of life,” he said. “The entire Springs community is heavily invested in unfettered access to the inlet and Three Mile Harbor in general.”
He and his neighbors strongly supported the 36 Gann Road purchase, he said, “but recent events have proved problematic,” citing a hatchery event on Memorial Day weekend that drew crowds to Gann Road. “Over all, we support this, but are seriously concerned about our little world.”
“Obviously, we want the neighborhood to be informed and have a voice in the process,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. The scale model Mr. Lys presented is by no means a final design, he said.
Barley Dunne, the hatchery’s director, said that there are just four full-time employees at the hatchery, so few parking spaces are needed for the site. Parking needs for Bostwick’s and the hatchery will not typically coincide, he said, and many of the lectures and workshops hosted at the hatchery happen in the off-season, when Bostwick’s is likely to be closed.
The town will apply for $2 million in grant funding for construction, Mr. Lys said, and must meet a July 26 deadline, but intends to submit the application by the 22nd. “That’s what worries me about this,” Mr. Bragman said. “This project has been driven by the funding. That’s why we’re so far down the line on this. . . . Whether it’s town money or grant money, we still have to think about what kind of impact it’s going to have on the neighborhood and community.”
“I was not elected to build big buildings,” he continued, “and I think there are better locations, farther away from residential uses like Babe’s Lane.” In a small town like East Hampton, “we should do the most we can with the least we need.”
But Mr. Lys and Councilwomen Sylvia Overby and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez all voiced support for the proposal. Mr. Van Scoyoc denied that grant funding was driving the project, and said that the planning board could modify the plans to address its concerns and those of the public. “But we will need plans to submit,” he said.
The board will resume discussion of the project next week. “We look forward to getting further input from the community,” the supervisor said.