By Stephen J. Kotz
The East Hampton Town Board in a straw vote on Tuesday agreed to recommend that Southampton Hospital should build a satellite emergency room facility at a site off Pantigo Road next to East Hampton Town Hall and not at another, much larger, town-owned site on Stephen Hands Path in Wainscott.
After formally unveiling plans to build the facility in October, the hospital, which has qualified for a $10 million state grant to help jumpstart the construction of the project, is eager to start the design process. “They want to focus on a site,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said of the grant deadline.
In October, hospital president and CEO Robert Chaloner estimated the facility, which would also include diagnostic laboratories, doctor’s offices, and other related services, could cost $35 million to $45 million to complete.
“I don’t know if this is an absolute drop-dead decision, if you will,” Supervisor Cantwell told the board after asking planner Eric Schantz, which of the two sites he would recommend, and suggesting that if insurmountable obstacles were to arise, the facility could most likely be shifted to the Stephen Hands Path site instead.
Mr. Schantz said the Stephen Hands Path site, at 45 acres as compared to the Pantigo Place site, which is only 4.5 acres, would provide “a nice blank slate when you are designing something,” but he said he still favored the smaller site because it is more centrally located, is next to the existing East Hampton Healthcare Center and Manual Sports and Physical Therapy, and also next to the Pantigo Place office complex, where the town owns approximately 12,000 square feet of space.
The town wants to sell those condo units and move the town staff now working in them to its main campus. If it does so, officials have said the condos might be attractive to medical professionals looking for office space, creating something of a medical arts campus at the site.
“I think the main question right now is whether or not we feel confident this can fit on the site right now,” Mr. Schantz told the board, saying he was concerned that the hospital was proposing too much parking — 140 spaces — when as few as 55 spaces might be needed. He also said it would help to have a traffic study completed to better gauge just how many cars would pull in and out of the facility on a given day. “That intersection can be tricky now,” he said
The property is currently zoned parks and conservation, and Mr. Schantz said it would have to be rezoned, most likely for commercial and industrial use, before the emergency facility could be built.
Although Mr. Chaloner estimated the center could be as large as 54,000 square feet in October, Mr. Schantz said the plans show a 32,000-square-foot building with parking and a helipad.
“A lot of this will have to be resolved through a more detailed process of review,” Mr. Cantwell said. One issue that will have to be resolved, he added, is where to place the ball fields that would be displaced by the facility.
The rest of the board agreed that the Pantigo Place made more sense. “It’s frustrating when we don’t have a traffic study when we’re making this decision,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez, who nonetheless said she favored the site over the more environmentally constrained Stephen Hands Path site.
The board agreed to take a formal vote when it meets next Thursday, December 15.
While the board heard good news about the Pantigo Place site for a medical facility, it heard disappointing news about its hopes to repurpose the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons school building at the Stephen Hands Path site into a new senior center.
Mr. Schantz said planners at first thought the building would be easily converted but that it was difficult to shoehorn the various functions such as a 2,000-square-foot kitchen and fitness room into the space. In addition, he said its large size made it difficult for senior citizens to navigate from one end to the other.
“It doesn’t exactly meet our needs and there’s not a way to easily reconfigure it the way we need,” he said.
Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez said an advisory committee charged with signing off on the site of a new senior center had decided it would be better to design it on the site of the existing center on Springs-Fireplace Road.
Other board members suggested the property could be developed for a community center or recreational facility. “I think it could be a missed opportunity if we don’t look at this building as something in our grasp,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby.
“I want to be more cautious,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez. She noted a senior center could cost between $5 million and $6 million and the town is looking at another substantial bond to fund the construction of new town campus office space.