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Jan 28, 2019 10:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Community's Concerns Intensify Regarding Bridgehampton Gateway Complex

The area of the Bridgehampton Gateway. PRESS FILE
Jan 31, 2019 4:16 PM

For nearly six years, lifelong Bridgehampton resident Carol Konner has sat on her plans to build a fitness and health facility along Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. Throughout those same years, she’s faced fierce opposition from community members and environmentalists alike, who have persistently argued that her proposal would be an “assault” on the Bridgehampton community.

So she said she wasn’t at all surprised when her application was chastised yet again when asking the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals for variances permitting Bridgehampton Gateway, her development plan for a cluster of properties totaling 13 acres across from the Bridgehampton Commons, which she has slowly been acquiring since 1995.

“That’s how long it takes to get something done in our community,” she said on Thursday, January 24.

In order to move forward with her plans for the Montauk Highway property, she must first secure four variances—the most significant and controversial being a request for relief from town code restrictions limiting the maximum size of a building within highway business zones to 15,000 square feet per lot.

The proposed Equinox Fitness, the centerpiece of the proposed Bridgehampton Gateway complex, would be a total of 27,000 square feet, spread between two separate buildings—the first being 13,000 square feet and the other 14,000 square feet—connected by a breezeway. The proposed gym would sit on roughly 4.4 acres, which according to Ms. Konner’s attorney, John Bennett, is more than four times the town’s 40,000-square-foot minimum requirement for a subdivision. “Meaning, we could further subdivide and do the same thing,” he said.

However, the current plan is to subdivide a larger 8.3-acre portion into three lots—the fitness center lot, another 1.5-acre highway business lot, and, lastly, a 2.2-acre lot that would be zoned for residential development.

Ms. Konner said last week that she eventually plans to build two 5,000-square-foot restaurants on the additional highway business lot, and an assisted living facility on the other. Both are allowed under existing zoning, she said.

However, Mr. Bennett stressed that the only proposal currently before the board is the Equinox health and fitness center.

After years of delays, Ms. Konner was forced in 2016 to give up on an application for a town-initiated planned development district at the site, which would have allowed the Town Board to grant permission for uses that were not limited by the current zoning. After discussions fell through on the plan—and PDDs were subsequently removed from the town code—Ms. Konner began to focus on the current development proposal.

Still, even without discussion of future additions, the project has had opposition from community members who have expressed concerns regarding increased traffic congestion along Montauk Highway and what Bridgehampton resident Bonnie Verbitsky has called “the excessive commercialization of the village.”

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,” such as Home Depot and Costco, according to Southampton Town ZBA Chairman Adam Grossman. “The limitation on size was to not have these box stores affect smaller stores,” he said last week.

However, Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said permitting a gym with total square footage of 27,000 square feet would have exactly the same impact as a big-box store on other local businesses should the board give the developer a green light.

At a public meeting on January 17, he argued that a total of 21 locally owned businesses—including Gotham Gym, Peaceful Planet Yoga and Southampton Gym—from Southampton to Sag Harbor would be negatively impacted by the opening of the proposed fitness facility.

“Because Equinox is a large brand and offers programs from spa and health classes, it will function in an identical way as a big-box store,” he had said. “It offers just about anything.”

To combat Mr. DeLuca’s argument, however, Mr. Bennett pointed to two previous ZBA decisions that allowed developers to similarly exceed the town’s floor plan limit: Puppy Mongo in Hampton Bays, and the Mercedes-Benz car dealership on County Road 39 in Southampton.

However, Mr. DeLuca said that the impact of the proposed gym and the pre-existing businesses are not even remotely comparable.

“A car showroom or Puppy Mongo may be large in terms of square footage, but it’s not something that’s pulling people in,” he said at the hearing. Pointing to a list of services to be offered at the Equinox health center, he said, “All of that is going to bring people there.”

As for the facility’s potential impact on smaller businesses, Mr. Bennett added that, over the years, the State Court of Appeals has determined that competitive concerns are not recognized when analyzing land use applications.

Even so, Ms. Konner maintained last week that the proposed gym would “absolutely not” affect smaller businesses in the surrounding areas. “Equinox is not shutting anyone down,” she said.

Still, community concerns go far beyond the “big-box store” dilemma.

At the ZBA meeting earlier this month, Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee Chairwoman Pamela Harwood expressed concerns about traffic congestion in the area, noting that it would only get worse if the developer’s application is approved.

Her argument was supported by traffic engineer Steven Schneider, principal of Schneider Engineering in Ronkonkoma, who argued that a recent traffic study completed by Lorena Moschetta, a traffic engineer at KLD Engineering in Islandia, as part of the application’s review is “highly inaccurate.”

Ms. Moschetta, who was hired by the applicant over the summer, explained at the meeting that the construction of the Equinox gym would have a “minimal” effect on the pre-existing traffic conditions.

Based on her study, which analyzed a combination of intersections both with and without traffic signals within a quarter-mile radius of the proposed site, commuters would potentially see a 10-second increase in delays heading west on Montauk Highway between peak hours if the development is approved.

She added that the level of service—essentially a grade offered by the DOT representing the quality of motor vehicle traffic—would remain the same.

The current level of service at the intersection of Montauk Highway and Hildreth Lane is a “D,” according to Mr. Schneider. However, contradicting Ms. Moschetta, he noted that in 2020, without any development of the property even considered, it’s projected to worsen to an “E,” and he suggested that with the addition of the Equinox gym it could potentially reach an “F,” which is the worst possible rating.

“You should be aware of how poor it is today without anything else going in,” Mr. Schneider said, addressing the ZBA board members on January 17.

“I would give this a ‘G,’” Ms. Harwood said.

To mitigate traffic congestion, the developers plan to install a left turn lane along Montauk Highway for vehicles to enter the site, Ms. Moschetta said.

That’s not enough to convince Ms. Verbitsky. In a letter submitted to the ZBA earlier this month, the president of the Bridgehampton Action Now community group—which formed in 2016 in opposition to the Bridgehampton Gateway project—argued that there is already “impassable summer traffic” along Montauk Highway.

“Imagine what will happen to the already horrific traffic backups,” she wrote. “With this added negative impact, traffic could conceivably be backed up to Flying Point Road in Southampton.”

She went on to say that motor vehicle accidents would also increase in the area, which, according to Mr. Schneider, has had 168 reported accidents over the past three years.

“Now, you stop and think about that—that’s over 50 a year,” Mr. Schneider said, addressing the board at the January 17 meeting. “That’s tremendous.”

Additionally, Ms. Verbitsky has not been shy in asking the board to consider rezoning the parcel to prevent any development whatsoever.

To that end, Mr. Bennett said her request is completely unreasonable. “The only thing I’ll say about that is, I can compliment them on being frank. But people have property rights, and you’re supposed to be able to develop a piece of property.”

“We live in a free economy,” Ms. Konner added.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Grossman stressed that the board is still in the early stages of evaluating the requested variances, noting that within the next couple of months the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, review will address many of the community’s concerns.

“We’re all familiar with the Bridgehampton community, and the traffic is a huge issue,” Mr. Grossman said. “SEQRA will dive into it in more detail. This is certainly not the end of it.”

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Why is it that every permit needs a Variance? Why do we have existing codes???
Just use the existing codes, PLEASE
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Jan 28, 19 1:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ah the Hamptons. Land of perpetually outraged CAVE dwellers (Citizens Against Virtually Everything). They scream “I don’t go to the gym - how dare you propose to build something I personally would not use!” Now let’s all go back to worshiping at the alter of Jeff Bezos since we have zero local business or infrastructure.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jan 28, 19 2:00 PM
"Citizens Against Virtually Everything"
That's pretty funny.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 29, 19 8:05 AM
loved CAVE so much better than NIMBY
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 28, 19 4:16 PM
I think its time we all admit our population needs/deserves services from larger companies. People living out here have a hard enough time affording a place to call home . Why is a outfit that can offer services at competitive rates being looked at in a negative way?? If other businesses are effected they need to step it up. Thats called free market capitalism......Traffic is going to be horrible anyway. We just keep building more lanes to ease it and guess what.....more traffic comes!!!
By Long Pond Rentals (6), sag harbor on Jan 28, 19 6:22 PM
Smaller "mom and pop" stores simply do not have the buying power, i.e. the ability to procure bulk discounts like "big box" stores.

Look how long a time frame and the massive effort required for Riverhead's Main Street to recover from all the "big box" retail on Route 58.

And please, stop with the "free market" horse****. It's no more valid an argument than it was during "horse and sparrow" economics during the late 19th century. At least men like George Westinghouse set a fine ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 28, 19 7:00 PM
HMMM, the new residents of the East End are well aware of what "services from larger companies" are available when they choose to live here. Overdevelopment has been an issue for decades and the powers that be should have learned from their mistakes. Build as of right or not at all.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 28, 19 6:47 PM
I absolutely agree that development should be controlled and we need to be very careful to protect against overdevelopment. But there is a huge difference between overdevelopment and zero development or undevelopment, which is what all the CAVE dwellers out here want. Just last week they secretly used $5M of CPF funds to buy only one acre on Ocean near Lily Pond in order to tear down the existing mansion and let the land return to being overgrown scrubgrass filled with ticks. I’m sure it was ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jan 28, 19 7:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
The CPF has been turned into a slush fund to do favors for the well placed...tho don't hold your breath waiting for the "journalists" at 27 east to look into that.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Jan 29, 19 6:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
The traffic issue is real - and it continues to be ignored, everywhere in SH town.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Jan 29, 19 7:31 AM
They have been ignoring the traffic on the entire East End for 30 years. Now its too late, enjoy it and thank your local politicians.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Jan 29, 19 9:11 AM
put in a hooters!!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 29, 19 6:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
So 2000s. Put in a Tilted Kilt!
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 29, 19 7:36 PM
What about the natural habitat of this once beautiful area....farms, deer, vistas..wildlife .Who needs all these extra businesses.....
By rvs (106), sag harbor on Jan 29, 19 10:39 PM
I support Ms Konner's proposed use of her property. A gym would be a great addition to the east end. The only place with a indoor pool is the ymca in East Hampton. The Southampton gym at the Hampton Jitney did have indoor pools but they made the foolish mistakes of taking them out. Assisted living is sorely needed on the east end.Its a shame that people have to fight against something instead of fighting for something. So much negative energy. What we don't need is more retail space. We need ...more
By harbor man (47), sag harbor on Jan 31, 19 9:49 PM
A gym were the memberships ate $350 per month is NOT what the local residents need. And this stretch of 27 is already a traffic nightmare. Enough with these big businesses
By PatrickKing (15), Sah Harbor on Feb 5, 19 2:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
Have to laugh at these people who oppose a “box store” type facility in the Hamptons claiming it’s an eyesore and will damage local businesses yet they make their weekly trek to Costco, Home Depot, etc to save a few bucks while totally wiping out local enterprises. Hypocrites?
By Stolzr (11), Bridgehampton on Feb 11, 19 7:17 PM
1 member liked this comment