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Debate Future Uses of Wainscott Sand Mine

Wed, 05/25/2022 - 19:23

The former sand and gravel mine in Wainscott, and how its 70.5 acres might be used in the future, was under discussion on May 17 at the final meeting of a group charged with implementing the Wainscott hamlet study’s recommendations.

Several participants favored parkland, and perhaps an arts center, on the site. The owner of the property, meanwhile, is seeking approval from the town’s planning board to transform its six parcels into a 50-lot subdivision, ranging from around one acre to around six acres.

The application has been deemed incomplete, and the Planning Department is awaiting “a more complete version,” including traffic and groundwater data, said Jeremy Samuelson, director of planning. The application is tentatively to be reconsidered on June 22. 

The Wainscott group’s previous discussions centered on redevelopment along the north side of Montauk Highway in the hamlet’s commercial district, with infill development of new or expanded buildings, connected and shared parking areas behind it, pedestrian connectivity, “a beautiful new streetscape,” in the words of Peter Flinker, a consultant to the town, and gathering places between buildings. Bathgate Road might be extended through the former sand and gravel mine and become a kind of Main Street for the transformed commercial district, he said.

But how might the old mine itself, where the depth to groundwater is as shallow as 2.3 feet, be redeveloped to enhance redevelopment of the larger area? The applicant has proposed that two existing uses, a cement plant and a mason supply yard, continue. The applicant’s proposal, Mr. Samuelson said, would see around 45 percent coverage (75 percent is permitted by zoning); an estimated 874 parking spaces, and an estimated range of 150 to 300 vehicle trips per hour during peak times.

“To me,” said Pat Trunzo of the working group, “one great omission of this hamlet study” is that it did not propose alternative zoning for the old mine property. “I don’t think we need 70 acres of [commercial-industrial] subdivision in East Hampton in any one spot, especially in the hamlet of Wainscott.” He wondered aloud about rezoning, “for at least some of this property.”

Mr. Flinker suggested incentives for businesses such as the Speedway gas station and the Home Sweet Home moving company to relocate from Montauk Highway, through the creation of a special “service” district, “getting them out of the pedestrian-friendly district and moving to a place where they could still do business” — a place that “wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the active mixed uses envisioned for a revitalized Wainscott.” Otherwise, he said, they will presumably remain where they are.

Some group members doubted that business owners could be enticed to move elsewhere. But Lisa Liquori, another consultant and a former town planning director, suggested it might happen organically. “The way communities evolve,” she said, is, “when a particular business area starts to thrive, you will see some uses move out, because they can’t stay there anymore” owing to rising costs.

Members of the working group had been tasked with submitting ideas for a new vision for the sand mine site. Someone mentioned Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, a former pumpkin farm on which a Home Depot had been proposed. It now houses a center dedicated to the preservation of local history and culture. The property, which was acquired by Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County, features walking paths, recreation fields, a playground, a community center, and a parking area with electric-vehicle charging stations.

The Storm King Art Center, an outdoor sculpture park in New Windsor, N.Y., was also suggested as a model, as were the Rod’s Valley park preserve in Montauk and the Fresh Pond Road grasslands in Amagansett, another former sand mine.

Several members of the group spoke up for an outdoor arts center, playing fields, or both. Carolyn Logan Gluck dared to “stick my neck out and say my personal feeling is that a cement plant has no place in the sandpit.” It made sense when the site was being mined, she said, “but it seems a dinosaur and a relic from the past.” Wainscott already provides commercial and other services to the town, she said, citing East Hampton Airport and infrastructure for the South Fork Wind farm. “This is an opportunity for us to rethink fundamentally how this space can be used.” 

She also pointed to Dia Beacon, a former Nabisco box-printing factory in Beacon, N.Y., now an arts center that has helped to transform the city into an arts destination. It is, she said, “an interesting example for how the use of retail spaces can evolve and change over the years in response to something as radical and innovative and farsighted as an arts organization coming into the community and coming up with a vision that is radical and yet integral to what the property offers.”

Other group members insisted that the entire site be allowed to revert to wilderness in order to protect the sole-source aquifer.

Also at the meeting, 11 of 13 participants voted in favor of commissioning a study to assess the feasibility of an advanced sewage treatment facility. This would reduce nitrogen loading from existing and potential development, Ms. Liquori said, and allow and encourage the kind of development the group envisioned. “If you had a sewage treatment plant, the community could decide what’s best for the development of the area,” she said. “Advanced sewage treatment could facilitate the vision you want for Wainscott.”

This would require a feasibility study to identify what properties could be served and what subsequent development would be possible. Such a study would cost between $15,000 and $30,000, Ms. Liquori said.

With the working group’s meeting schedule concluded, the consultants are to issue recommendations, in the form of a report, to the East Hampton Town Board.

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