By Mara Certic and Stephen J. Kotz
CVS Caremark and BNB Ventures IV have filed suit against the Southampton Planning Board last week over its October 9 decision to require an environmental impact study for a proposed pharmacy in Bridgehampton.
The property in question is owned by BNB Ventures IV and had previously been the subject of a site-plan approval for a 9,030-square-foot building. The two-story building was approved for several different retail uses as well as potential residential uses.
When rumors circulated earlier this year that the pharmacy giant was eyeing the busy corner of Montauk Highway and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike for a new store, Bridgehampton residents reacted angrily, first through the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, which called on the town to step in and prevent the application.
Later, an organization called Save Bridgehampton Main Street was spun off from the CAC to raise money to fight the project by conducting its own traffic study and hiring an attorney.
When CVS made its plans official in July by applying for a special exception permit to occupy the building, which is now under construction at the site, Bridgehampton residents staged protests at the site.
On October 9, the planning board voted unanimously to require an environmental impact statement for the CVS proposal, reversing an earlier decision to not require one for the original site plan.
Southampton Town Planner Claire Vail, who made the recommendation that the board adopt what is called a “positive declaration” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, told the board a CVS at the busy corner would have adverse effects on both traffic and community character.
John Bennett, who represents CVS Caremark and BNB Ventures IV, expressed frustration at the board’s decision. He warned the board at the time he thought the decision was “textbook arbitrary action.”
He said on Monday he hoped to have a judge direct the planning board to process the application through its regular site-plan and special exception procedures and not require “a full-blown environmental impact statement.”
“The building that’s there now had a traffic study and they gave it a building permit,” Mr. Bennett said.
Mr. Bennett said the first thing he insisted on when he began representing CVS Caremark was that it conduct a traffic impact study. That study, he said, showed the pharmacy would not create a traffic disaster at the intersection, as many had worried. In fact, he said, the study showed there would be 50 fewer trips into the site per hour, than if the lot were to house multiple tenants.
“When they talk about actions that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, they’re talking about 50 homes that are not connected to a public sewer or a public water system,” Mr. Bennett said in a phone interview on Monday.
“Moving a new tenant into a building under construction is not likely to have a significant impact,” he said.
The suit contends that CVS “is politically unpopular with some as not ‘high end’ enough for the Bridgehampton hamlet and has resulted in the town agencies bending to political pressure.”
The only difference, it continues, between the first site-plan and the new one is that “one tenant, as opposed to two, will occupy this already approved, under construction building.”
The suit says it is a simple “quirk” in the town code that requires retail uses of between 5,000 to 15,000 square feet to obtain a special exception permit in the Village Business district.
Furthermore, the suit contends that the town referred the application to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in a bid to stall it from proceeding.
Although the town board is not named, the suit charges that its decision to hold a public hearing on proposal that would tighten the requirements for a special exception permit “demonstrates the clear illegal and purely political agenda of the respondent board and of the town officials.”
The code amendment, which among other things, would have required that an applicant demonstrate a need for the proposed development before a special exception permit could be issued, has been tabled by the town board.
The appearance of Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst at a recent Bridgehampton CAC meeting also caught the attention of the suit. At that meeting, Ms. Throne-Holst discussed the rebirth of the Bridgehampton Gateway project, the long stalled development of commercial properties on the south side of Montauk Highway across from the Bridgehampton Commons. She asked members what type of community benefit they would like to see if the town were to designate it a Planned Development District. Several in the group immediately responded that it would make a better location for a proposed CVS.
“Further, and remarkably, the Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst appeared at a public meeting and discussed an alternative site for the CVS proposal, thus, creating a significant potential injury to petitioner established real property right,” the suit said.
On Wednesday, Dennis Finnerty, chairman of the planning board, said he was unable to comment on pending litigation. Carl Benincasa, attorney for the planning board, also declined to comment on the suit.