For the better part of an hour, members of the Southampton Town Planning Board debated whether the plan to turn a one time Bridgehampton farm stand into a museum for antique fire trucks met the town’s standards for the board to approve a special exception permit, which is required when a proposed use of a property falls outside the permitted zoning of the area.
The project was approved by a 4-2 vote, with board Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro and member Glorian Berk dissenting, and members Robin Long, Dennis Finnerty, John Zuccarelli, and Craig Catalanotto voting to approve.
The Sag Harbor Antique Fire Truck Museum’s plan calls for using an existing 2,400-square-foot metal building on the 35,711-square-foot triangle bordered by Scuttlehole, Millstone, and Guyer roads in Bridgehampton as a facility to store and maintain antique fire trucks. A storage facility is not permitted under current zoning in that district, but a museum is. So museum officials included a display of photographs depicting firefighting in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Debate points centered on outside storage and inside circulation. Looking at the plan, Lofaro and Berk questioned how any visitors, particularly any arrivals in a wheelchair, might navigate the interior of the museum. The trucks, said the chairwoman, are set “cheek by jowl.” Speaking on behalf of the museum, attorney Dennis Downs explained that if a group came to tour the museum and space looked tight, one of the trucks could be brought outside.
To some board members, pulling a truck out and parking it in the yard would constitute display, which is prohibited. “I have an issue with how the trucks can be viewed if we’re not permitting outdoor display,” Berk said. She questioned whether there truly was enough space for the facility to function.
Finnerty countered that the previous use, the farm stand, had displays right up to the road. The museum will be much less extensive operation than its predecessor, he said. He believes the term “display” relates to items exhibited outdoors for extended periods of time, not just a truck parked for a brief period. If the trucks come out to accommodate visitors, then roll back inside, “that’s not an outdoor display,” Finnerty said.
“It’s supposed to be an indoor museum,” Lofaro countered.
If parking a truck on the grounds is an issue, one could be pulled out and driven off for the length of the tour, perhaps to the Columbia Street firehouse, attorney Dennis Downes suggested, speaking on behalf of the museum. Berk said she had an issue with putting a truck on the road in order to access the building. Downes said the museum would do whatever it has to meet conditions of approval. He noted the building will be “basically a warehouse for antique firetrucks.”
Where are the four trucks now, Lofaro asked, wondering if they were already all stored someplace. The representative explained they’re kept at different locations because there is no one spot.
Ed Deyermond, also representing the museum, explained that the organization doesn’t expect to host many tours. It would be open just during the warm months, because the building isn’t heated, and only accept visitors by appointment. The trucks are primarily taken off site for participation in parades or funerals. Deyermond expected the museum would be used just a few hours per month.
Discussing the standard related to whether the plan interferes with neighboring properties, Lofaro noted its location in a residential district, as well as opposition from neighbors. Finnerty countered that the South Fork Natural History Museum and the Children’s Museum of the East End are both situated in residential zones.
The use before was more intense, he reiterated, adding, “I can’t think of a more benign use for a residential zone.”
The resolution of approval lists an array of covenants that include a prohibition against storing or repairing vehicles outdoors, and using detergents, oils or chemicals to clean, paint or maintain the vehicles. There is to be no fundraising or retail and no outdoor displays or sales. No expansion would be permitted. The resolution stipulates that the museum would entertain visitors for no more than two hours per month, by appointment, from April to October.