By Valerie Gordon
Several dozen community members attended the Southampton Town Planning Board meeting on Thursday, July 25, to speak in opposition to a proposal to build a 27,000-square-foot Equinox fitness and health facility along Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton.
The developer behind the proposal, property owner Carol Konner, has been working with her attorney, John Bennett of Southampton-based Bennett and Read, to secure four variances from the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. The most significant is a request for relief from the town’s zoning code that limits the maximum size of a building in the highway business zone to 15,000 square feet per lot.
Ms. Konner has been slowly acquiring the 13-acre parcel across from the Bridgehampton Commons, since 1995. Originally, she planned to develop the site as part of a planned development district; however, after discussions fell through — and the Town Board subsequently removed the zoning tool from the town code — she revised her plan to be more consistent with existing zoning.
According to Mr. Bennett, the current plan calls for one 13,000-square-foot building and one 14,000-square-foot building to be constructed on roughly 4.4 acres. While the proposed Equinox gym would comprise two buildings — each within the 15,000-square-foot limit — the plan calls for them to be connected by a breezeway.
Additional plans call for a three-lot residential subdivision to be built on approximately 2.5 adjacent acres in a residential zoning district.
However, according to an overall site plan, prepared by Araiys Design and submitted back in 2016 as part of the developer’s original application, Ms. Konner plans to further develop the property to include several additional buildings, totaling approximately 77,800 square feet. That site plan also includes the construction of 432 parking spaces.
The proposal is currently before the Town Planning Board to consider an environmental impact statement, to be completed under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, detailing any potential adverse impacts the development may have on the environment.
As part of that review, the Planning Board will analyze the impacts to groundwater, open space, transportation, as well as whether or not the proposed development is consistent with the character of the community.
At Thursday’s public hearing, community members spoke to each of those aspects, arguing that the development should be limited to conform with the zoning code.
According to Southampton Town ZBA Chairman Adam Grossman, the intent behind the town code provision prohibiting floor plans from exceeding 15,000 square feet is to prevent the building of “big-box stores.”
Former Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee President Shira Kalish argued at the meeting that the developer’s variance request contradicts the purpose of the law and would severely impact traffic in the area, particularly for emergency responders.
“The superstore law covers all of these concerns,” she said. “This is just simply greed at the expense of the community.”
Bridgehampton CAC Chairwoman Pamela Harwood agreed, estimating that the proposed gym would produce more than 160 cars per hour based on just one cycling class.
“That’s a quarter-mile of cars leaving at once,” Bridgehampton resident Peter Feder, said, estimating that traffic would back up from the Montauk Highway Carvel to Citarellas. “You’re going to have that leaving all at once every hour on the hour.”
The current level of service at the intersection of Montauk Highway and Hildreth Lane — which does not have a signal light — is rated a “D” according to Steven Schneider, a principal traffic engineer with Ronkonkoma-based Schneider Engineering.
At a previous public hearing, he projected that without any development, the intersection would worsen to an “E,” and suggested that with the addition of the Equinox gym it could potentially reach an “F,” the worst possible rating.
Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, addressed the Planning Board on Thursday, urging them to restrict the development to mitigate those traffic concerns.
“It’s clear that this project doesn’t conform to the town code,” he said, addressing the board. “If this project isn’t it, then you all get to decide what that project ought to be and how it ought to confirm to the highway business zone.”
In addition to traffic concerns, residents were equally concerned over the project’s potential impact on Kellis Pond, which is described by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and Southampton Town as a “critical environmental area.” In recent years, the water body was found to contain harmful cyanobacteria blooms—commonly known as blue-green algae.
In fact, the property surrounding the pond is protected by the town under a conservation easement, according to the draft EIS. A copy of the easement was not immediately available.
At the meeting, residents were also concerned over the development’s impact on the character of the community, as well as its potential impact on local business—of which Mr. DeLuca identified 21 similar health facilities within a 5-to-6-mile radius of the proposed Equinox gym.
Mr. Bennett, however, argued that economic competition is beyond the scope of the Planning Board’s jurisdiction under SEQRA, adding that the proposed fitness center is not a retail store and would therefore have no affect on the Bridgehampton downtown district.
However, in the DEIS, the proposed development is often referred to as a “retail business center.” Mr. Bennett did not return phone calls this week seeking additional comments.
Ms. Harwood argued that the proposed health center would classify as a retail facility, noting that other Equinox fitness centers offer juice and snack bars and sell T-shirts and exercise clothes. “It has the capacity to be a retail facility,” she said. “Why else would you need 27,000 square feet?”
“These large business entities create economic kill zones,” added Julie Burmeister, a member of the Bridgehampton CAC. “It is bound to have an impact on small businesses.”
The Planning Board agreed to accept written submissions up until August 2. The board is required under SEQRA to adopt the final environmental scope within 60 days of receiving the DEIS—or by Thursday, August 8.