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Cottages for Creatives in Montauk

Thu, 08/10/2023 - 11:01

Two public hearings held on July 26 before the East Hampton Town Planning Board drew scant comment, though both concerned projects that are large and potentially impactful for their neighborhoods.

The first involved Montauk Sunset Cottages, a collection of buildings on a 3.8-acre parcel at 31 East Lake Drive. Going back to at least 1962, the 11 cottages and a 3,354-square-foot residence haven't changed much. In 2017, David and Monica Zwirner purchased and incorporated the property as an L.L.C., and later produced plans to raze and rebuild all the cottages and the residence. The house would be built in the same location but be double the size; the cottages would be rebuilt, mostly in their current locations. A 56-foot swimming pool and yoga pavilion would be added, along with an improved parking area.

The Zwirners plan to rent what they are calling "Bridgeford Cottages" to artists and writers. Edwina von Gal has been retained to provide a landscape revegetation plan focusing on native plantings.

In February, the Zoning Board of Appeals heartily approved a natural resources special permit and variances for the proposal. Ed Johann, a zoning board member, abstained from that vote. At a public hearing held by the Z.B.A. last November, a handful of positive comments were submitted to the board.

The planning board discussed the proposal for the fourth time at their June 28 meeting and voted to give it a negative declaration per the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, meaning an in-depth environmental review wasn't necessary. That vote was not unanimous, however. Randy Parsons abstained; Louis Cortese voted against it.

They wanted to condition their approval on the removal of a deteriorating bulkhead on the property (something that has long irked the town's Planning Department), but Nancy Marshall, a town attorney, told them that such a condition wouldn't hold up in court.

Samuel Kramer, chairman of the planning board, concerned about construction noise and the narrow East Lake Drive, asked the Zwirners' lawyer, Tiffany Scarlato, how long construction would take. She estimated two years.

Brian Frank, the town's chief environmental analyst, again strongly encouraged the Zwirners to remove the bulkheads, but said that because the changes were happening upland, away from the lake shore, "there's not enough of a nexus there to compel their removal. If there was a legal nexus, the planning department would vociferously encourage that."

"It would be a nice thing, for them to do something about the structures in the water," said Mr. Kramer.
But no one mentioned the bulkhead at the public hearing. Should they receive site-plan approval, the Zwirners would only need approval to rebuild from the Z.B.A. and could avoid the planning board altogether.

Kevin Sheurs, who lives across the street from the cottages, was the only person to speak about the proposal. He met the Zwirners when they first bought the parcel, he said. "At the time, I was told it was purchased for their kids and friends. I heard rumors that this is going to be an artist retreat, this sounds more like a potential resort — so I have general concerns about lack of clarity about what this is going to be," he told the planning board.

As a father of two small children, he said the 20 proposed parking spots concerned him, because of all the "ins and outs."

Next up that evening was a public hearing on Cilvan Realty, which wants to convert a decades-old nightclub at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton, into a market, with offices and two affordable apartments upstairs.

This was the second public hearing for the proposal. The first, on April 12, included plans that violated the pyramid law, a detail that was missed by everyone before the hearing, necessitating updated plans.

Jaine Mehring, who spoke at length during the April meeting, focused her concerns on details regarding the affordable apartments. Betsy Petroski, a neighbor on nearby Jackson Street, argued that the proposed building was out of character with the neighborhood and "could be a logistical nightmare" with traffic. However, no new voices were heard, and Richard Whalen, the lawyer speaking for Cilvan, did his best to put to bed any issues raised.

He briefly discussed the changes that had been made to make the building conform with the pyramid law, noting that the building would now be five feet lower. Most of his time, however, was spent discussing traffic, which was a chief concern during the April hearing.

Specifically, Mr. Whalen sought to rebut a letter written by Lisa Liquori that projected 330 trips per hour at the new retail space. "That would mean every 10 seconds a car coming in or out," he said. "That is utterly impossible. That would never happen at this site." He compared the proposed building to Damark's, just two miles up the road. "Nobody here would say [Damark's] generates 330 trips per hour, at their peak hour."

To bolster his words he introduced John Harter, a traffic consultant. Mr. Harter said Ms. Liquori likely categorized the new building as a convenience store, but argued that it should instead be considered a supermarket. Using that metric, he calculated 55 trips on a weekday lunch peak hour, "a small increase" over the current traffic. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, he added, when a new establishment is below 100 trips in a peak hour, a traffic study isn't necessary.

Ending a nightclub and consolidating three separate curb cuts into one, as far as possible from nearby residences, proved they were doing "all good things from a traffic perspective," Mr. Harter concluded.
Both public hearings were closed. 

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