Traffic at Forefront of T.J. Maxx Expansion Concerns

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T.J. Maxx in Bridgehampton.

At a public hearing on a proposal to expand discount retailer T.J. Maxx in the Bridgehampton Commons, the shopping center owned by Kimco Realty on Montauk Highway and Snake Hollow Road, residents expressed concern the project had the potential to further exacerbate traffic in the hamlet.

On November 8, the Southampton Town Planning Board held its first public hearing on a proposal to expand the 33,000 square-foot building, located on the eastern side of the shopping mall, by 17,000 square-feet.

The public hearing followed an October 4 decision by the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to approve multiple variances to allow the project to move forward. After ruling in August to issue a negative declaration on the project — meaning it does not have the potential to cause a significant adverse environmental impact under the State Environmental Quality Review Act — the planning board deemed the application complete last month, paving the way for public hearings before the board votes on whether to approve the expansion.

According to planning board Chairman Dennis Finnerty, the public hearing will be re-opened for comment on December 13 when the project-sponsors — not at last Thursday’s meeting — are expected to attend.

Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee Chairperson Pamela Harwood was the first to speak, representing the CAC, a group that has vocally opposed the expansion.

“Bridgehampton residents are seeing their small, once rural hamlet becoming a hub of oversized commercial and residential development,” she said. “The Southampton Town Planning Board has in the last few years seemed to favor wealthy business interests by approving a wave of town code variances despite community resistance, all given to allow even larger structures and usage.”

As members of the planning board later tols Ms. Harwood, the board cannot legally grant variances — that is the purview of the town’s zoning board of appeals. A planning board is charged with reviewing site plans and is often tasked with serving as the lead agency for large development projects under SEQRA. It also has the ability to regulate land use through tools like “banking” parking spaces, which is proposed for this project. Land banking allows a developer to designate open space that could be used for parking and reserve that space as green space unless it is deemed in the future to be necessary to accommodate parking needs.

“I want to say, I am not anti-Bridgehampton Commons,” said Ms. Harwood. “In fact, I love the Bridgehampton Commons. I live five minutes away and go there every week. But enough is enough.”

“Do we want Bridgehampton to be the new center for big box stores of the Hamptons?  Nobody in Bridgehampton wants that,” she said.

“I have also heard you approved a traffic study that says there is no additional traffic because it is an extension of the existing store,” added Ms. Harwood. “I have not spoken to anyone who agrees with that. Everyone thinks there is the possibility of more traffic but I would air on the side of caution. We just came from Bridgehampton tonight. It took a half hour to get from Bridgehampton, Main Street just to the border of Water Mill …”

In a statement read by Ms. Harwood, Nancy Cervantes said the project could harm the character of the hamlet.

“Why are we letting developers destroy these qualities by augmenting a mall that was out of character at its inception and is totally wrong in 2018,” she wrote. “Please look at the whole picture.”

Ms. Cervantes warned approval could impact future applications including the redevelopment of 13 acres owned by Konner Development across the street from Bridgehampton Commons.

“Until there has been an updated master plan, there should be a moratorium on any mall development or expansion,” wrote Ms. Cervantes.

Andrea Spilka, of Eastport, also submitted a statement through Ms. Harwood on behalf of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition — an umbrella organization of many civic associations located west of the Shinnecock Canal. She called on the board to deny the application.

“We have all experienced traffic problems from Water Mill to Bridgehampton and sadly, the proposed expansion would make matters worse,” Ms. Spilka wrote.

She also questioned the need for the expansion.

“I question the corporation’s business plan,” Ms. Spilka wrote. “To go to the expense of building an additional store when there are already vacant storefronts in the Bridgehampton Commons — right to the left of the T.J. Maxx entrance there are two empty stores — seems foolhardy as does expanding their brick and mortar footprint when so many people are changing their buying habits, resulting in the closure of many retail stores.”

Noyac resident Larry Penny told the board it should use its influence to encourage the developer to install solar panels on the roof of the new building.

“I know you can’t tell the developer he has to do that but you have a little freedom to work with the developer,” said Mr. Penny. “If the whole mall were solarized it would be enough to provide about 500 houses electricity.”

Mr. Penny also said the planning board should require an environmental impact statement under SEQRA, although the board has already voted not to do.

“What concerns me most is the traffic,” said resident John Kringler. “I live here year-round and it gets worse every month it seems.”

Planning board member Jacqui Lofaro agreed traffic is an issue that residents face throughout Southampton.

“We have no traffic engineer on staff in this town,” she said. “What is the single, biggest nightmare in this town — traffic.”

She encouraged residents to lobby the town board to hire an engineer to study traffic throughout the town and “come up with some creative solutions.”

“We are all frustrated about the traffic and getting past the Commons,” she said. “It may not be the Commons — it could be the trade parade.”

Ms. Lofaro also noted with roads owned by the state, county and town, it can be complicated to bring everyone to the table to come up with reasonable solutions.

“So we are as frustrated as you are,” she said.

“We will bring this back up on the 13thand by then we will have all the traffic problems figured out,” joked Mr. Finnerty.

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