When a group established to work on implementation of the Wainscott hamlet study met for the first time last Thursday, some members expressed disappointment at the pace of progress, with one asking, “Is there a point where we’re going to start implementing something?”
The study, adopted into the East Hampton Town comprehensive plan in 2019, was meant to answer the question: “How could this place evolve into something better?” Peter Flinker, a consultant who worked on it, said last week.
It sought, in part, to address a lack of pedestrian connectivity and outdoor space in the hamlet’s business district. Haphazard development, with many curb cuts and uncoordinated parking lots, has brought a strip-mall look and feel to area.
The establishment of Wainscott Green, on the former site of the Swamp and Star Room nightclubs on the west end of the business district, is an initial improvement, Mr. Flinker said.
An illustrated master plan reviewed during the virtual meeting showed additional changes that are envisioned, including continuous pedestrian space fronting the commercial properties on the north side of the Montauk Highway and consolidated, shared parking behind the buildings, allowing drivers to park once and access multiple buildings and reducing the number of curb cuts on Montauk Highway. This, Mr. Flinker said, would allow additional new construction and businesses that could “bring more life and economic activity to the area.”
On the business district’s east side, Bathgate Road could be extended and modified to accommodate only westbound traffic, Mr. Flinker said. This could create a secondary road parallel to Montauk Highway that would “relieve a lot of pressure” by providing an alternate route. And, it would “feel like a village street,” he said, with trees, sidewalks, and new buildings. All of this, he said, is “how you develop the feeling of a nice, walkable village.”
Also part of the master plan is the concept of redeveloping part of the 70.4-acre reclaimed sand and gravel mine into 50 commercial parcels, a proposal currently before the town planning board. A “home improvement district” there could cluster home-related goods and service providers, Mr. Flinker said. The hamlet plan calls for apartments on the second floor of “as many commercial buildings as appropriate,” he said, and “maybe some freestanding apartment buildings” for workforce housing.
The eastern side of the business district would potentially see considerable new construction, envisioned as commercial, mixed use, and affordable housing.
Construction of one or two roundabouts on Montauk Highway — one at the intersection of Wainscott Northwest Road, another at a new entrance to the sand and gravel pit redevelopment area, with raised and landscaped median islands — has also been debated. Roundabouts are “very effective,” said Ray DiBiase, another consultant, “reducing significantly serious accidents, where people are injured, by 80 percent over a conventional traffic signal at an intersection.”
Richard Nevins, a member of the working group, said that roundabouts could create as many problems as they solve. Living in England demonstrated to him that Americans driving there “could never take to roundabouts.” Nor are roundabouts a beautification measure, said Barry Frankel and Nina Battaler.
Studies of all of the town’s hamlets were conducted over a period of years, with all of them added to the comprehensive plan. Wainscott is the first to see implementation and last Thursday’s meeting included consultants who led the study process; Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board’s liaison to the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee; Jeremy Samuelson, the town’s planning director; Sara Davison, executive director of the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, and around a dozen residents, many of them business owners or members of the citizens committee.
Members of the working group offered comments on the plans last week, some of them sounding confused by what they described as contradictory goals.
Doreen Niggles said that she was not in favor of additional residential construction, citing existing density.
Carolyn Logan Gluck, chairwoman of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, said the working group is “trying to figure out” how a longstanding residential community and a home improvement district would co-exist and fit together. Complicating planning, she said, are unanswered questions as to the future of both the sand and gravel pit and East Hampton Airport, which the town board plans to briefly close at the end of the month before implementing significant restrictions on operations there. “I don’t see how we can think about how the business district in Wainscott is going to take shape until we have answers about those two elephants in the room,” she said.
Residents she has spoken with would like to see “much smaller chunks of the picture” enacted, Ms. Logan Gluck said, citing as an example the extension of the sidewalk on Montauk Highway from the HomeGoods store to Wainscott Green. “If we can make incremental progress,” she said, “people will feel all the more enthusiastic in the medium and long term.” Pat Trunzo agreed.
“What I had hoped we would get to tonight is more of implementation,” said Jose Arandia. Instead, he said, the meeting felt more like “rehash, and we’ve seen these plans, and we were part of these plans. It seems we haven’t moved the needle a lot.” He agreed that a small step, like the extension of Bathgate Road, would help in “making the plan start to happen.”
“We sort of need to start over” to bring the group up to date, Mr. Flinker said. He suggested a poll of the working group prior to its next meeting to solicit members’ priorities.
Lisa Liquori, another consultant, proposed a next meeting on Feb. 17. “We’ll get more deliberative in the next couple of meetings,” Ms. Overby predicted.