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The Coming Redevelopment Wave

Wed, 12/29/2021 - 18:09


A massive wave of redevelopment is about to wash over the South Fork. Deep-pocketed investors are excited to get a piece of the anticipated post-pandemic boom. How much further disruption this will bring to the East End way of life is up to local officials — and a well-informed public.

The stakes are huge. East Hampton, Southampton, the North Fork, and the villages are at a breaking point already in terms of traffic, housing, noise, and, depending on where you are, livability. With large-scale construction projects in varying stages of the approval process, the future looks worse, not better. Nearly all of the problems we face here can be tied to how we use our limited land base and to construction laws that, though well-intentioned for the most part, are not up to the task of sustainably guiding us into the next decades. A moratorium on building permits to give officials a pause in which to rewrite regulations and enforcement procedures appears necessary and obvious.

Consider just a few of the proposals being contemplated. In Wainscott, the owners of a giant commercial site north of Montauk Highway are seeking East Hampton Town’s permission for a workspace and storage complex to serve the construction trade. In East Hampton Village, a developer is eager to create luxury townhouses off Newtown Lane and may be able to if a long-hoped-for sewage treatment plant is finally built. Also in the village, a large brewery and restaurant is being planned on Toilsome Lane. Bridgehampton has a number of underutilized parcels that could be put to more-intense uses; large portions of the area north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks have already been converted to semi-industrial purposes.

In Montauk the pressures are arguably the most intense. The Duryea’s project seems to expand endlessly, for one. And in the review stream now are an excessively large hotel, restaurant, and nightclub plan at one end of East Lake Drive, and a 17-cottage artist’s retreat at the other. In Sag Harbor, a group hopes to build a new home for the Bay Street Theater close to the cherished waterfront.

Important to pay attention to as well is the trend of supersizing houses, as well as hotels and inns buying up neighboring residential property on which to expand, largely without government oversight and with questionable legal justification. Town and village officials know where these are but have been unwilling to take action. Looking ahead, there will be plenty more of the same as existing businesses change hands. The new owners will often be investment groups or hospitality companies eager to profit from the overhyped allure of “the Hamptons.” Mom and pop they most distinctly are not. This is a gloomy prospect for residents not inclined to take the money and run and who like things the way they are.

There are signals that officials have noticed and are taking the challenges seriously. Sag Harbor Village recently enacted a building pause that allowed it to redraft some of its zoning code. East Hampton Town has hired a new director for the Planning Department with outstanding pro-environment credentials. These are important steps, but it will also be up to the public to let their local governments know they are watching and that they care what happens to the places they love.

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