Bridgehampton Gateway Draws Crowd

Debate pluses, minuses of sprawl vs. housing
“We are talking about people who are in need of places to live. This is what my support is for,” said Bonnie Cannon, the chairwoman of the Southampton Town Housing Authority, at a hearing on the Bridgehampton Gateway project. Taylor K. Vecsey

It was standing room only in the Southampton Town meeting room Tuesday night at a hearing on Bridgehampton Gateway, with an overflow crowd watching on television nearby. While opinion varied  on the environmental, septic, and traffic impacts of the planned development district proposal, which would bring a mix of commercial, retail, and residential use to a 13.3-acre property across Montauk Highway from Bridgehampton Commons, everyone agreed on one thing: More affordable housing is needed in Bridgehampton. The debate was whether the property was the right spot for it.

The proposal to change the zoning on the Konner Development property from highway business to P.D.D. includes a commercial complex, now reduced to 80,000 square feet, and 20, mostly one-bedroom, second-story apartments above commercial uses such as an Equinox gym. The apartments, would be considered affordable, but the income equations have yet to be determined. Affordable housing is considered a community benefit, which is a required component of planned development districts.

The controversial project elicited a recommendation from the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee last week that the Southampton Town Board reject the P.D.D., although the committee had initially been supportive, and Bridgehampton Action Now, a group formed in recent months, has collected nearly 1,200 signatures in opposition.

Christiana McPherson, a 29-year-old social worker who works with the mentally ill on the East End, captivated the audience as she cried and said she and her husband were gainfully employed but that 70 percent of her individual income goes toward rent for their one-bedroom cottage.

“It’s not enough to be able to save and buy a house and that’s the American dream,” she said. “It’s a disgrace to our community that I am not alone.” Ms. McPherson said she wasn’t a big fan of the entire project, but wanted to support affordable housing.

Having begun as a town initiative, the proposal was originally for 90,000 square feet of commercial and retail space with 30 affordable apartments above the commercial space and market-rate condominiums in a separate building. Carol Konner, the principal, had agreed first to reduce the commercial space to 85,000 square feet. Then, this week, she agreed to another reduction, bringing the commercial space down to 80,000 square feet. The 20 apartments would take up 20,000 square feet and the four separate  condominiums would also remain.

A state-of-the-art sewage treatment system has been promised at a cost of $2.4 million. On Tuesday, Pio Lombardo, a wastewater consultant who has worked for the Town of East Hampton and was hired by Mrs. Konner, said the treatment system, Nitrex, is a nitrogen and phosphorous management plan that would protect nearby Kellis Pond, and he said the 10 homeowners around the pond could hook up to it.

Mrs. Konner, who lives on Mecox Bay, which Kellis Pond feeds into, said she was committed to clean water. She would even accept wastewater from neighboring homes at no charge, she said, as long as they paid for the hook up. “They are as serious about cleaning up Kellis Pond as I am, then they should put their money where there mouth is,” she said.

Robert DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, asked the board to forego further consideration of the P.D.D. because the property is environmentally-sensitive. He said he objected to P.D.D.s in general, finding that the relationship between the town board, which reviews P.D.D. proposals, and the developers is very murky. “Are you an objective jury? Are you a partner? Is it a collaboration?”

Supervisor Schneiderman, who took office in January and has been critical of planned development districts, reminded Mr. DeLuca that he had been involved in drafting Southampton’s P.D.D. law — twice. He said the town was now reviewing the law and that a moratorium on further applications was being considered. The Gateway is an example of why P.D.D.s don’t work, Mr. DeLuca said, adding that a community benefit like affordable housing should be the primary part of a proposal “not a shoe-horn aspect.”

Sandy Taylor, who lives on Audobon Avenue, said she was neither against Mrs. Konner nor affordable housing, but opposes “unsustainable retail.” She asked the board to consider acquiring the property for open space. “We do not need this dumped on our charming, rural hamlet, one of the last on the South Fork.”

Bonnie Verbitsky, who started Bridgehampton Action Now and lives near Kellis Pond, said the town needed to find the “proper place for families and children so they can enjoy themselves and not have to cross the highway and risk fatality.”

Philip Cammann, who lives on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and works and volunteers as a paramedic, spoke in support of the Gateway. “In my 36 years of service there have been more fatal or near fatal accidents between Butter Lane and Bridgehampton School — including just this past weekend — than anywhere near the Bridgehampton Commons,”

He couldn’t understand what the citizen committee’s “recent flip-flop is all about.” Mrs. Konner had done her due diligence to hear the concerns of the community, he said. “The next generation of E.M.T.s, firefighters, hospital employees, and teachers can’t afford to live here, and we as a community need to properly address those needs now.” While some developers would offer “a land-use swap,” offering credits for affordable housing in Flanders, “that does not make a Bridgehampton community, nor does it put out your house fires or save your child’s life from a medical emergency.” 

Elizabeth Naclerio, who owns a house on Kellis Way, said the property would be overdeveloped, which would create more congestion, and in turn hurt the tourism economy that she said everyone benefits from. “My friends are going to go to Nantucket. My tenants have made it very clear they’ve had it up here,” she said of her summer renters. Affordable housing is needed, she said, “I just don’t think this is the spot.”

Later in the meeting, Louis Myrick, who grew up in Bridgehampton and represents a new citizens group called Current, said, “The easy way out is to say I’m just as concerned about affordable housing as anyone, but this isn’t the project. If not here, where? If not now, when? We can meet in rooms and talk for another 15 years. But right now people are hurting. People need homes. People are homeless.” 

After three hours of testimony, the board held off on voting on whether to consider the planned development district. The hearing was held open until May 24 at 6 p.m.

Christiana McPherson, a social worker, said she supported the planned development district at the Bridgehampton Gateway because the need for affordable housing for gainfully employed professionals is so dire.Taylor K. Vecsey