The Wainscott Commercial Center has sucked up a lot of the oxygen concerning development in Wainscott, but on its southern border the third-largest commercial building in East Hampton Town is seeking big change.
Home Sweet Home, the moving company, wants to convert to a self-storage facility. Their large warehouse on Montauk Highway, next to the Speedway gas station, would accommodate 443 self-storage units if the East Hampton Town Planning Board approves their application to double the building’s gross floor area, from 27,810 square feet to over 55,000.
The footprint of the building would not change. Instead, a “mezzanine” level would be built inside, creating the extra square footage.
On March 22, for the seventh time since the application was first submitted, nearly three years ago, it came again before the board. Despite all the visits, the town’s Planning Department was apparently not seeing a lot of forward momentum.
Tina Vavilis LaGarenne, a principal planner, said she saw “little change in the proposal,” which she characterized as “large-scale, on a heavily constrained pre-existing nonconforming lot.”
“Respectfully, that statement is untrue in every respect,” said Brian Matthews, a lawyer speaking for Home Sweet Home. He said the applicants had reduced square footage and the number of storage units, had doubled parking, and even agreed to lop off 900 square feet of the building.
Still, at the last hearing, town planners had asked for the reduction of some 3,000 square feet more and more space for parking and for cars to circulate the building. Mr. Matthews, however, objected that agreeing to the recommendation would accomplish none of that and would only add “dead space.”
The building occupies almost its entire lot. As a moving company with only six employees, its parking lot has been manageable. The Planning Department contends that switching to a self-storage company could create chaos, because it would be impossible to coordinate the comings and goings of customers — other than by the hours of operation. The hours proposed by Home Sweet Home are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Regarding parking circulation, Mr. Matthews argued that “This is not a discretionary finding for this board to make.” Town code dictates the size of parking spots, and he submitted expert parking and traffic studies. Home Sweet Home proposes 14 spots altogether. “The board can’t throw up their hands and say they disagree,” the lawyer said. “The fact that we meet and exceed what the code requires, mandates a finding that the parking layout and circulation is acceptable.”
“The undeniable fact remains that everything that the client is proposing here is making this property nicer and making this property less impactful,” said Mr. Matthews.
“If 2 percent of the 443 storage unit customers were to come at the same time, it would require nine spaces, said Randy Parsons, a board member. “What happens if five percent come on a July afternoon?”
Home Sweet Home’s removing 900 proposed square feet of building was a “major concession,” Mr. Parsons acknowledged, adding, however, that it wasn’t just about creating space for parking, but to “reduce the number of storage units served by this facility, which goes to the parking problem in a different way.”
“It only barely works if the absolute minimum of the clients show up,” he said.
“If 100 percent show up, it won’t work,” said Marc Pilotta from Key Civil Engineering, shaking his head to show he was kidding. “We know historically what comes into these types of facilities.” He cited three other self-storage businesses in the town that have received planning board approval.
“None of which are on Route 27,” put in Samuel Kramer, the board chairman. “That’s the significant thing. You built this mezzanine; you added a couple hundred units — you have a building that starts out as maybe the third or fourth largest square-foot building in the town. Comparing it to a 4,000-square-foot building, particularly one on any road other than Route 27 in Wainscott — I don’t think it’s a valid comparison.”
Realistically, said Mr. Kramer, the three parking spots fronting Route 27 would draw the most use. He foresaw drivers attempting to turn into the full lot and backing up traffic on the highway. The argument of the traffic consultant “flies in the face of reality,” he said.
Aaron Machtay, a traffic consultant from VHB Engineering, Zoomed into the meeting to disagree. All over Long Island, he said, these facilities exist. “The reality is, the traffic generated is not very high at any given time. The 14 parking stalls would be adequate for far more units than we’re proposing.”
“I appreciate, changes have been made,” said Louis Cortese, a board member. “But to me, that indicates the original plan was huge to begin with. So it’s indicative of that, more than it is mitigating the problem, and it’s still large. It’s this monstrosity of coverage on almost every square inch of that property.”
“I live about a quarter-mile from this spot,” said Michael Hansen, a usually silent planning board member. “I question your traffic study.”
“According to Tina’s memo, the traffic study is based on a New York State counting station on Sunrise Highway in Shinnecock Hills. And it’s from 2019,”
said Mr. Parsons, adding fuel to Mr. Hansen’s fire.
“I understand your desire to optimize the opportunity here,” said Ed Krug, a board member. “There’s a lot you can pack into this, but there’s a point where it becomes a little like getting 10 pounds of rice into a five-pound bag.”
The board was unanimous that Home Sweet Home needed to reduce the building further, that parking was insufficient, and that the traffic study was questionable. One literal bright spot: They found the lighting plan acceptable.
It will take at least an eighth visit to the planning board before a public hearing can be scheduled on the project.