Editorial: Vision First

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The East Hampton Town Board last week held its first public hearing on the Wainscott section of an overarching hamlet studies plan that explores the potential future for each of the town’s downtowns, for lack of a better word to describe five vastly different places. Town officials began to explore the centers of Wainscott, East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett and Montauk three years ago, looking to address key issues including affordable housing, traffic, aesthetics, pedestrian access, water quality and, for downtown Montauk, which is literally perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, how to plan for the rising tide of global warming.

It’s a vision for the future of five distinct places that, if adopted, would fold into the town’s Comprehensive Plan to offer residents and government officials a lens from which to view future development and redevelopment, as Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Thursday, and chart a course toward an overall ideal, when possible, rather than making plans piecemeal, as is too often the case.

The focus this week was on Wainscott and the hamlet plan largely received widespread support, although some business owners are clearly wary of any document suggesting that their properties might be re-zoned (for the record, no properties will be formally re-zoned if this plan is adopted; that would require a separate — and likely lengthy — public process). The Wainscott hamlet plan is well thought out and attempts to build a tremendous amount of character into a downtown center that does, as was noted several times on Thursday, have the feel of strip mall. Wainscott today is a place to go for a specific destination, rather than a downtown area to meander through while shopping and enjoying a bite to eat while getting some errands accomplished. The proposed hamlet plan is pedestrian-friendly, with added open space in addition to shops that would be able to expand with parking pushed behind the buildings, rather than sitting adjacent to Montauk Highway.

Traffic in Wainscott is a killer, and this hamlet plan does try to address that in a meaningful way, pulling cars off Montauk Highway and behind storefronts, and promoting other forms of transportation outside of cars and trucks. It also looks at mix-use development, creating a wastewater treatment plant and incentivizing second story apartments to increase housing stock.

The elephant in the room when looking at Wainscott, of course, is the former gravel and sand pit — currently the subject of a planning application for a 50-lot subdivision, although downtown Wainscott is under a building moratorium not set to expire until the end of the year. Conceptually, the hamlet plan suggests mixed-use development including commercial and industrial uses, single family home lots, a new train station and a large public park in the center of the 70-acre parcel.

It’s a transformative idea for Wainscott – even more so if the housing was able to offer affordable options for residents. In that respect, we agree with Kathryn Szoka, who on Thursday said all hamlet plans should include more than just second apartments if the town is going to truly address a growing and alarming need for workforce and year-round housing.

This is a solid plan and one the town board should not shy away from adopting. That said, understanding the real picture of what is reasonable and possible for the sand mine property will be when we truly begin to see down the road to an evolved downtown for Wainscott.

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