Board Thinks About Space for Businesses

Balancing commercial and residential land use

    A brief discussion of data on East Hampton Town’s zoning districts and the space allotted for business here at the last town board meeting of 2011 appears destined for a reprise in the new year.
    According to information presented by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley at the Dec. 20 meeting, 92 percent of the town’s lots are zoned for residential use. Six percent, or 1,368 lots, is zoned for commercial or industrial use.
    Business advocates in the town have long complained about restrictions placed on businesses that are in residential zones. According to the town code, businesses that are “pre-existing, nonconforming” — those that were legally established in a location that was later zoned for uses other than commercial (often only for residences), may continue to exist but may not expand.
    Councilwoman Quigley, the liaison to a business committee formed by the board, which has 16 members — 8 second-home owners and 8 business owners — said at last week’s meeting that the group has been discussing pre-existing, nonconforming businesses, and had asked the Planning Department to provide some information.
    The data show, Ms. Quigley said, that Amagansett is the hamlet with the greatest number of residentially zoned properties being used commercially. Of 2,859 separate parcels of land in Amagansett, 101 are used commercially and 44 of those are in areas zoned for residences. The rest are in commercial zones.
    Wainscott has the fewest pre-existing, nonconforming commercial uses. Of the 82 lots in that hamlet used for businesses, only 9 are in a residential zone, Ms. Quigley said.
    Land use in other hamlets falls some­where in between. In East Hampton, where 216 properties outside of village boundaries contain commercial or industrial uses, 45 of them, or about a fifth, are in residential neighborhoods.
    In Montauk, 303 of the 339 commercially used properties are in a commercial zone. Several of the 36 properties containing businesses that are in residential areas have been the subject of ongoing neighborhood complaints — primarily because of noise and crowds from the clubs located on them.
    Springs has only 59 properties used for commercial or industrial endeavors, and 80 percent of them, or a total of 47, are in areas zoned for that. Twelve lie in residential districts.
    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson noted at last week’s meeting that the concept of allowing pre-existing, nonconforming activities to continue on land that is no longer zoned for those purposes includes an expectation that eventually those uses will be phased out and the land used only for things for which it is zoned. But, he asked, should all of the residential lots revert to housing only, “How much business land are you losing?”
    “The question is, how many ever revert to residential use? I don’t think thate lose too many,” said Town Councilman Pete Hammerle, who is this week completing his fourth, and final, four-year term on the board.
    “The concern on the other hand is that there are few vacant parcels in commercial zones,” Ms. Quigley said. The town code prohibits expanding a pre-existing, nonconforming commercial use. “There’s not much room for existing businesses to go” should they want to move to a zoning district where growth would be allowed, Ms. Quigley said. In addition, she said, some commercially zoned properties are being used residentially.
    “We as a community . . . many of us want jobs. We need to have businesses — the ability to have a business,” she said.
    “If you’re going to have the kind of land mass — or lack of land mass — for business, is that sufficient to carry the Town of East Hampton into the future?” Mr. Wilkinson asked.
    Throughout East Hampton Town, with 22,105 lots on 35,886 acres, there are 797 lots used for commercial or industrial purposes. Of those, 144, or 18 percent, are in residential zoning districts.
    Eighty-two percent, or 653 of the commercial or industrially used lots are in districts zoned for such uses.