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New Hurdles for Wainscott Commercial Center

Thu, 03/16/2023 - 09:31
The owners of a 70.4-acre former sand mine in Wainscott have proposed 50 commercial lots there.
Nelson Pope Vorhis

The proposed Wainscott Commercial Center has had a series of setbacks in recent weeks, most recently and perhaps most importantly on Tuesday night, when the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals was unanimous in its decision that a special permit was required for the planned industrial park proposed for the spent sand mine.

While it took the town six years to get to the question, it took the board mere minutes to make their decision.

Roy Dalene, the board’s chairman, said that while a few industrial parks had come before the town planning department in the past, no precedent had been set about whether they needed a special permit, at least by the Z.B.A.

Ed Johann, the vice chairman agreed. “There is no precedent since we were not asked to rule on it” in the past, he said.

“I will submit that the decision we make tonight will be the precedent-setting decision for the town,” said Mr. Dalene.

He read the definition of a planned industrial park, which requires a special permit: “The development of industrial land involving the subdivision of a large lot into five or more lots, each of which is at least 20,000 square feet in area,” and said, “That fits the definition of what we have before us.”

“I think it’s a black-and-white decision,” he said, supporting the necessity of a special permit for the development. Wainscott Commercial seeks to subdivide a 70.4-acre parcel into 50 commercial lots.

David Eagan, the attorney for Wainscott Commercial, had argued that requiring the special permit would result in duplicate permitting. However, Joan McGivern, a board member, disabused him of that notion.

She said the special permit was happening at the planned industrial park level. After the land is subdivided and sold, and the specific use of each lot determined, it was possible that a new owner might have to receive a special permit for how they choose to use the land. However, that permit would be brought by different applicants down the line.

“So, I think the argument that there’s a duplication of permitting is fallacious at best,” she said.

More unwelcome news for Wainscott Commercial came at the county level on March 1, at a Suffolk County Planning Commission meeting. The commission met in part to discuss the draft environmental impact statement submitted by Wainscott Commercial, and its members were unimpressed.

It had last reviewed the proposal back in 2018, and hoped a complete D.E.I.S. would help answer some of the concerns raised, but commissioners seemed frustrated that it failed in that regard.

Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc spoke at the meeting and said “This proposal has garnered the most interest, but the least amount of support of any proposal that I’ve witnessed in my 23 years as a public official in East Hampton.”

He mentioned the five-and-a-half-hour long public hearing, held on Feb. 8, at which 47 people spoke out against the development and none spoke in favor. He also said 166 written comments had been submitted to the town, all opposed to the plan.

“The proposal does nothing to capitalize on its vicinity to the rail or support transit-oriented development,” he said, and “the maximum additional building area could be one million square feet.”

John Tintle, the owner of the sandpit for over 35 years, also spoke at the hearing. He said the town could purchase 22 lots of the subdivision. “If the town would like to create a train station, there are lots available. If the town would like to create affordable housing, there are lots available. If the town would like to create a public park, there are lots available.”

“The town supervisor said he wasn’t endorsing the project at all,” said Jennifer Casey, chairwoman of the commission. She wondered “How we reconcile the staff approving the project when the supervisor of East Hampton is against it.”

Andrew Freleng, the chief planner for the county, said, “I don’t know on what grounds to deny it at this point.”

“I certainly do,” said David Doty, who represents the Town of East Hampton on the commission.

“This proposal is too incomplete to consider,” he said. While Wainscott Commercial had taken some “perfunctory actions,” it had basically “ignored” the commission’s original comments and questions that caused it to vote it incomplete years ago, he said.

“The developer wants it, his attorney wants it, but the community and the town supervisor are opposed,” he said, adding that the proposal “absolutely ignores” the town’s comprehensive plan of 2005 and the Wainscott Hamlet Plan of 2016.

Mr. Doty said the traffic study was “moot and woefully out of date.” What bothered him most, however, was the fact that Wainscott Commercial proposed 50 individual I/A septic systems, instead of studying the benefits of including a sewage treatment plant for the development.

“They have to take a look at the potential septic impacts of this development and whether there are better alternatives out there,” agreed Michael Kaufman, the vice chairman of the commission.

Mr. Doty added that the proposed subdivision spread all 50 lots across the 70 acres, instead of clustering them, which would allow for the preservation of more land and allow for easier access to a train station proposed in the hamlet study.

He made a motion to judge the application incomplete and request additional information. The commission supported his motion unanimously.

“I think the commissioners rightly deemed the application incomplete,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “Wainscott Commercial hearkens back to the type of developments done decades ago without any consideration or planning for infrastructure ahead of time. I don’t know what happens next, but I felt it was important to speak before the commission.” He noted that he hadn’t done so since he spoke out against condominiums proposed at 555 Montauk Highway in Amagansett over a decade ago.

The East Hampton Town Planning Board voted Wednesday night to extend the comment period for "interested and involved agencies" to comment on the D.E.I.S. until March 31.

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