By Stephen J. Kotz
The Bridgehampton Gateway project is dead. The Southampton Town Board on Tuesday officially pulled the plug on the controversial mixed-use development proposal eyed for a 13-acre site on the western edge of Bridgehampton across Montauk Highway from the Bridgehampton Commons shopping center.
The town’s action followed the decision last week of Carol Konner, the principal owner of the property, to withdraw her support for the project.
The gateway project, which took the form of a planned development district, or PDD, sponsored by the town, had drawn a growing chorus of opposition in recent months from both neighbors and members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee.
“I was fighting for somebody else’s application,” Ms. Konner said on Tuesday. “It’s not my battle and I’m tired of it.”
Ms. Konner and her firm, Konner Development of Bridgehampton, have owned at least some of the parcels that were being considered for the development for nearly two decades, she said.
“I have no comment on what I’m going to do with it now,” she said. “I’m going to get over a cold, go out and play some golf, and let someone else worry about it.”
“It’s somewhat bittersweet,” said Supervisor Jay Schneiderman of the inability of the town, the developer, and the community to come to a consensus for the development of the site. “I’m kind of curious as to where it all went wrong.”
In recent months, the gateway project was scaled back at least twice. In its final version, it called for 80,000 square feet of commercial space and 20 workforce apartments as well as an on-site sewage treatment plant. It would have been anchored by an Equinox gym and spa that would have occupied a total of 28,000 square feet.
In a bid to keep the kind of suburban sprawl seen along County Road 39 in check, the town has wanted to oversee the development of the site, which consists of nine parcels on either side of the Carvel ice cream shop, ever since it updated its comprehensive plan in 1999. Most of the property is zoned for highway business uses. In the most general of terms, highway business zoning allows appliance or furniture stores, automobile-related businesses, health clubs and similar businesses.
A decade ago, there was a plan to develop the site with a Barnes & Noble bookstore as an anchor, but that that project fell by the wayside during the financial crisis of 2008. Two years ago, then Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst had town planners revisit a PDD that would provide an alternative site for a CVS pharmacy. When CVS had proposed a store for the corner of Main Street and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, it set off a firestorm of intense community opposition.
The current gateway plans, which were reviewed with input from the CAC, seemed to be wending their way through the review process with little trouble until earlier this year when the town board scheduled a hearing to determine whether to proceed with the idea. At that point, opposition spearheaded by an organization called Bridgehampton Action Now, or BAN, surfaced, and residents of homes surrounding Kellis Pond to the south also came out against the project, arguing the development was too dense and not a good location for affordable apartments.
In the meantime, Mr. Schneiderman sought concessions from Ms. Konner. She agreed to reduce the amount of commercial space from about 90,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet and reduce the number of affordable apartments from 30 to 20 and the number of market-rate housing units from eight to four. She also agreed to consider hooking up existing houses around Kellis Pond to the sewage treatment plant proposed for the site, turn over a planned green to the community, and set aside some commercial space as low-cost rentals for locally-owned businesses.
“There were a lot of positives,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “The town was moving forward believing this was something the community supported.”
That changed when the CAC, whose members said they were never appraised of just how much building was planned for the site, withdrew its support, saying it would prefer to see the property developed under its existing highway business zoning. “I felt like we were approaching the finish line and they backed out of the race,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
At its meeting on Monday, the CAC members agreed they would have to keep their eyes on the site to make sure that whatever is developed there is in keeping with community wishes.
Pamela Harwood, the committee’s chairwoman, said the group had dropped its support for the gateway because when the development was unveiled, it was larger than they had anticipated.
“There were a lot of sins of omission in the information we were given,” she said. “There were more and more ways that we realized we were being nudged into something we had not bargained for.”
Even though the town board said it planned to withdraw the PDD application, when it reopened the hearing as a formality on Tuesday, several people wanted to weigh in.
Kevin McAllister of the organization Defend H2O said he regretted that the withdrawal of the PDD might mean that a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system will not be built. “The old adage be careful of what you wish for is, I think, appropriate here,” he said.
But Bridgehampton resident Ira Trachtenberg wanted to help drive the nails into the PDD’s coffin. “The gateway project will provide nothing that we cannot do without,” he said, describing it as “a lose-lose situation” that will increase traffic, compete with existing businesses, and not bring any tax dollars to the Bridgehampton School District.
Fred Havemeyer, who lives just west of the project, said it was time for the town to totally rethink its approach to development and encourage hamlet and village-centered development that will only draw people from the immediate area.
“If you make destination type developments, what you are doing in essence is creating more traffic,” he said. “It’s the opposite of what we want to do.”