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At the ‘Heart and Soul’ of Amagansett

Thu, 05/25/2023 - 12:04
The East Hampton Town Planning Board was critical of a proposal for this parcel and one adjoining it on Amagansett’s Main Street, with members saying that a restaurant at the former Amagansett Applied Arts Building is a bad idea and that the 112-space parking lot seems to be the focus of the entire project.
Durell Godfrey

A new mixed-use proposal for the Amagansett Historic District, centering on a 112-spot parking lot, was unanimously panned last week at a meeting of the East Hampton Town Planning Board.

“It’s parking-lot-centric,” said Louis Cortese, a board member. “It looks like the primary focus is to create a sprawling asphalt center space, and it’s almost as if the buildings are incidental to the project.”

There are two parcels in question, at 136 Main Street and 11 Indian Wells Highway, which are on either side of the Mobil station at the southwestern end of Amagansett Main Street. Both parcels contain century-old structures and are in the historic district, meaning that they require not only site plan review but also a special permit, because the applicant is asking for multiple business complexes as well as apartments over a commercial structure.

An extensive set of guidelines must be considered as well. The building at 136 Main was once the Amagansett Garage, a circa 1920 automobile dealership and repair shop. The one at 11 Indian Wells, home most recently to Amagansett Applied Arts, “is a rare surviving building-type, associated with the early Amagansett summer colony,” according to a Planning Department memo.

“The real problem is that artist building,” said Samuel Kramer, the board chairman, referring to the onetime livery stable. “It’s one of the gems in this town. To surround it with asphalt, it’s going to do permanent damage to Amagansett. It’s bad. It’s bad for the community. It’s bad for what we’re trying to encourage, which is a pedestrian-friendly hamlet. The restaurant is a bad idea.”

“It’s a permitted use,” said Brian Matthews, speaking for the applicant, Hildreth Real Estate Advisors L.L.C. (A restaurant is included in its application.)

“Permitted or not, it’s a bad idea,” said Mr. Kramer.

 The application first came before the planning board last summer, with a preliminary plan for 136 Main Street, where Balcuns automobile repair now operates. Balcuns would be removed, under the draft plan, and replaced by offices, six retail storefronts, and a 7,200-square-foot structure containing six more storefronts and four affordable-housing units up above.

That part of the application, though roundly criticized by the same planning board, was left largely unchanged. What has changed is that in November, H.R.E.A. purchased the adjoining lot at 11 Indian Wells Highway, for $5.2 million. It is a separate lot, and Mr. Matthews questioned the Planning Department’s recommendation to merge it with 136 Main. If it were not merged, two more apartments with additional office space could go above the restaurant, under the current proposal.

Ian Calder-Piedmonte, a planning board member, commented that H.R.E.A. seemed now to be taking the defects and limitations of its original site plan review and blending them into its new purchase, to the detriment of its overall proposal.

“You’re taking a site that is constrained and lacking, and overflowing into one that is kind of beautiful,” he said. He argued that if the two parcels had been purchased by different buyers, it would never have resulted in the sort of site plan now being proposed.

“The art building is really bucolic right now,” agreed Sharon McCobb, another board member. “To turn the backyard into a parking lot would be such a shame.”

Tina Vavilis LaGarenne, East Hampton Town’s principal planner, noted that mature trees line the perimeter of the Indian Wells building. One guideline in historic districts is that the “open spaces that contribute” to the setting of the old buildings be maintained. “The proposed project isn’t taking them into account,” she said.

“If there’s trees and landscaping that want to be preserved, I think everybody wants to accomplish that — but again, the aesthetic experience of the site, it’s a junkyard in the back.” said Mr. Matthews.

“It’s a great big number of uses to bring into existence at once,” said Ms. Vavilis LaGarenne. Twenty uses are proposed for the two lots, which are about two and a quarter acres combined.

In her memo, she said that “the proposed site layout is not harmonious either with the existing neighborhood context or the Amagansett Historic District guidelines,” and suggested the planning board require the applicant to come up with “alternative layouts that provide for an attractive, pedestrian-friendly environment.”

“I would love to see ‘Amagansett Square Two’ here,” said the board member Randy Parsons. The Indian Wells parcel, he suggested, “would be a great historic acquisition for the town.”

“Just leave it alone,” he said. “We have this wonderful barn — we certainly don’t need a restaurant there,”

The planning board was unanimous that a traffic study was needed. Ms. Vavilis LaGarenne concurred, adding that if the study showed significant traffic impact on Montauk Highway, a more extensive environmental review could be necessary.

“I acknowledge that it’s a large area — a major redevelopment, on its face,” said Mr. Matthews. “But really, it’s just additional parking, and one new building. It’s less than it appears on paper.”

“Our job is to protect and preserve the heart and soul of our community,” said Mr. Cortese. “The guidelines are not just our subjective preference, they are found in the zoning code and permitting standards. The code is explicit in mandating the protection of our open spaces so they are not filled with concrete and asphalt. We must be careful not to gradually destroy the marrow of our community.”

Mr. Matthews took the criticisms in stride. “It’s not barely day one of this application,” he said.

“No one is super-positive,” said Mr. Calder-Piedmonte. “Perhaps you’ll take the comments and come up with something different.”


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