Prospects Decline for Rezoning

Baker House in Amagansett and Wainscott Post Office to remain residential
A request to change the zoning of the Wainscott Post Office property from residential to central business appears not to have gained the support of the East Hampton Town Board. Durell Godfrey

    The East Hampton Town Board is expected to deny two requests for rezoning, one of them for the historic Jeremiah Baker House on Main Street in Amagansett.
    At a work session on Tuesday, a majority of board members said they would neither approve rezoning the Baker House, now residential, to allow limited commercial uses, nor change the zoning on a Wainscott corner lot — at Wainscott Northwest Road and the Montauk Highway — that houses the Wainscott Post Office from a limited-business to a central business zone.
    A vote formalizing the majority’s consensus could take place at a board meeting next Thursday.
    The property owner’s request to return the Baker House’s zoning to its previous limited-business overlay designation drew criticism from numerous people at a hearing last month on the matter. The building dates back to 1856 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
    Councilman Pete Hammerle said Tuesday that limited-busniess zoning on the site was elminated under a 2005 update of the comprehensive plan, in order to concentrate commercial activity in the hamlet’s center, and that he still supports that goal. Councilwoman Julia Prince agreed.
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley disagreed with the rest of the board about both properties. Of the Baker House, she said, “We should allow the rezoning. The vista is protected by the fact that it’s a national landmark.” The town’s site plan requirements will restrict the property’s use, as well as parking there, she said.
    “The building is in the middle of other buildings that have the same kind of business-related uses,” she added. “It’s right on the Montauk Highway.”
    Councilman Dominick Stanzione said he was “not impressed” by the assertions regarding the rezoning under the comprehensive plan.
    But, he said, “I was impressed by the argument made by the gentleman who lives behind it, and the reliance that he made on the existing zoning.”
    At the public hearing, Paul Masi, who purchased property adjacent to the Baker House lot, had described how he had researched the zoning in the area before deciding to buy the lot to build a house for his family. Having a business use on a lot with which he shares a driveway, he said, would create safety issues for his young children.
    East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson equivocated.  “I’m tempted not to vote for it,” he said, “but I do find that there is conflict in the work that has been done. The Amagansett Corridor Study clearly anticipated commercial use of residences on Main Street. I get bothered by us at times selectively choosing items and ignoring others,” he said, of the recommendations in town planning studies.
    “But the corridor study was never adopted,” Councilwoman Prince pointed out. In an earlier discussion of the Baker House, Ms. Quigley had also pointed to the corridor study, which was rejected by a previous town board, although some of its recommendations were incorporated into the town comprehensive plan that was adopted.
    “But it was heralded,” Mr. Wilkinson told Ms. Prince. “Right at this podium it was heralded,” he said. “What I am saying is, the studies that we do are selective. We selectively choose things.”
    The comprehensive plan that is now in effect was debated and updated over the course of several years before it was formally adopted in 2005. A number of planning documents were analyzed and elements of them incorporated into the final version, JoAnn Pahwul, the assistant planning director, had told the board.
    “Having been around when we discussed the Amagansett Corridor Study,” Councilman Pete Hammerle said, “we took some things from it, and not others.”
    “But that’s the same thing as with the comprehensive plan and things of that nature,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    Ms. Quigley said that she had sympathy for Mr. Masi and his family, but, she said, “I do think that we should be looking at the use of the hamlet as a whole.”
    “For some of those exact same reasons, is why I would vote against it,” Ms. Prince said. “Because rezoning it is one-offing it for the economic benefit of one person.”
    Numerous speakers at the public hearing raised the issue of whether changing the zoning on the Baker House would constitute illegal “spot zoning,” in which a designation is changed without an overarching reason.
    On the Wainscott parcel, Mr. Wilkinson noted that the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee had come out in opposition to its rezoning. The property is owned by a limited liability corporation called Wainscott Pooh; the United States Postal Service has a lease that runs through 2019. The owner appears to be considering alternatives for its future use.
    Mr. Wilkinson said he would like to see the town purchase and preserve the lot. “I would love to use [the community preservation fund] for this piece of property, because it would green that whole side, as an entrance to the Hamptons.” However, he said, he had not looked into whether or not the property would be eligible for purchase with the fund, which is earmarked for the preservation of farmland, historic structures, and open space.
    Mr. Stanzione said that he hadn’t decided about the Wainscott parcel yet. But, he said, “I would note that the planning board did recommend against it.”
    Ms. Quigley laid out her reasons for supporting the rezoning. “It already is commercial,” she said, adding that “it would be improved by going through site plan.”
    “I believe we need to not yet further decrease the possibility of people being able to utilize their commercial properties in a way that would benefit the town.”
    Although one owner of a property nearby on Montauk Highway had said at the public hearing in May about the Wainscott property that he would like to have his property rezoned, and another indicated the same in a letter read into the record, Ms. Quigley said she was unmoved by what she termed the “Chicken Little” concerns expressed by some that rezoning the post office site would lead to requests to rezone more properties along that strip for more intensive commercial use.
     “This is a particular application for a specific rezone,” Ms. Quigley said Tuesday.