What will the business districts, or hamlet centers, of East Hampton look like 10, 20, even 50 years from now? According to a team of consultants working with input from community members, the town can craft a vision for the future that protects the rural, scenic character of these communities, is mindful of the environment and pushes forward with preservation, while also encouraging the development of workforce housing and dynamic downtown areas that consider traffic, parking, aesthetics, and even global warming.
On Tuesday, in the morning at East Hampton Town Hall and in the evening at LTV Studios in Wainscott, consultants Peter Flinker of Dodson & Flinker and Lisa Liquori, a former planning director now with the firm Fine Arts and Sciences, unveiled the latest revision to the long-term planning studies. A two-year effort— recommended in the town’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan — was recently updated to take into account comments made since June from community groups, residents and business owners. On Tuesday, consultants suggested the town board consider zoning changes such as the creation of “overlay districts” to allow for affordable housing, traffic projects including roundabouts and consolidated parking areas behind businesses, as well as long-term planning recommendations in an effort to help shape future development.
“The comprehensive plan called for the town’s ability and desire to meet commercial needs and develop detailed plans for our commercial area. East Hampton’s business owners and associations such as advisory committees, hamlet improvement societies and other organizations have continued to urge the town to conduct these studies and analysis,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby. “The primary goal of these studies is to formulate these detailed plans for each of the existing hamlet centers in order to foster the existing character, enhance economic vitality and to meet the needs of East Hampton township.”
“The purpose of doing an illustrative plan is not to come up with a plan where you say, ‘This is what is happening. This is what you have to do.’ It is really, with all of these centers, more to improve it,” said Mr. Finkler “You are talking about a deep and thought-through approach to design and a coordinated approach to design — that is sort of the key and the difference between the strip mall development the town is suffering from and the development that is really going to be successful 30 or 40 years from now. You are really going back to walkable villages where everything is connected. Parking is connected, circulation for cars, and especially the circulation of pedestrians who can get around without having to use their cars.”
While there are short term options presented for immediate changes in each of the hamlets, Mr. Finkler suggested the board look at developing a comprehensive approach — a form-based code — for each hamlet center, including some significant changes in zoning, working with residents and commercial property owners to see how centers can move toward an ideal gradually, and with the aid of town planners.
“We need to foster the development of business associations in each of the hamlets who are going to take ownership of this and look and see what they would want to do and what they can do,” said Ms. Liquori.
Visions for Wainscott include taking existing parking lots and vacant parcels behind the businesses on Montauk Highway and creating a large parking field with rain gardens — allowing some businesses to expand — drastically reducing the number of curb cuts, encouraging patrons to enter the business district from the north rather than the busy highway. Two roundabouts are also proposed, one to replace the traffic light at Wainscott Northwest Road. Western portions of the business district would be rezoned into a residence limited business overlay district with the goal of pushing everything east into one centralized hub that would draw walking patrons into restaurants and retail shops, with residential uses sprinkled throughout.
Ms. Liquori suggested the town may want to “create a new home improvement zoning district to try and facilitate relocation of some of those businesses.”
Affordable housing overlay districts were suggested for most of the hamlet centers, including Wainscott. Consultants proposed second story units, but also suggested the town evaluate a larger affordable housing plan in a portion of the former gravel pit next to Wainscott Northwest Road. Conceptually, the consultants included plans for a public park, several single-family residences, commercial/industrial parcels and mixed-use development in the former gravel pit. Continuous bike paths and bike racks as well as interior walkways between businesses and parking are also suggested.
In East Hampton, guidelines were suggested for Pantigo Road to consolidate parking and existing curb cuts, develop mixed-use development and workforce housing with second-story apartments in commercial zones and affordable apartments in residential areas near businesses, including the potential redevelopment of the former Stern’s property for affordable housing. The consultants also suggested the eventual redevelopment of the Bistrian sand mine on Springs-Fireplace Road into a multi-family housing area, with a large park and a food systems incubator to encourage the growth of agricultural businesses.
In Montauk, some of the greatest shifts are suggested to deal with the reality of rising sea levels, and a downtown perched on the edge of the ocean. Ms. Liquori and Mr. Finkler suggested a “strategic retreat” for oceanfront businesses, moving them landward and creating dune and natural sand systems to protect downtown Montauk. The business district could eventually grow northeast, up South Essex street, said Ms. Liquori.
The town board will now consider the recommendations and the public can still make comments about the draft plan, which is available on the town’s website, ehamptonny.gov.
“I think this is a great opportunity through this process to improve our quality of life,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “We are a very popular place, especially in the summer months. We know the infrastructure barely gets by handling the amount of people out here, and that has negative impacts as well as positive impacts. I think through this process we can address parking needs, traffic circulation, we will have an opportunity to address wastewater and improve our water quality. There will be an opportunity to improve economic opportunity and I think overall having guidance on how we develop in the future and having a shared community vision for how that should be is extremely important.”