If they have not already done so by the time you are reading this, the East Hampton Town Planning Board is about to vote to increase traffic tie-ups on Montauk Highway in Wainscott. An investor in commercial real estate bought the former Plitt Ford dealership there in September 2010 for $3.9 million, and he has gotten the town to think positively about his plan to redevelop it into a far more intensive retail space. Little analysis of the new store’s impact on nearby residences or the vehicles passing the site has been conducted. This should have occurred, and it bodes ill for the kind of scrutiny future highway-side commercial projects will receive.
Whether by design or happy accident, the developer neutralized would-be opposition by hinting that a high-end food market, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, might be in the cards. That apparently sounded good to a lot of people as well as the planning board, and the board is set to approve a high-traffic use to replace the nearly no-impact businesses that had been there for many years. Privately, the property owner has been saying that it looks as if he is about to sign a deal with the CVS drugstore chain, which takes the bloom off the rose a little. (CVS apparently would give up its site and overcrowded parking lot next to the East Hampton Post Office.)
Unfortunately, a “hub” store, such as the developer plans, will add to year-round congestion at an already jammed section of Montauk Highway. Vehicles headed east stall there on Fridays, while the westbound trade parade backs up traffic on weekdays at around 4 p.m. Let’s face it, this area of Wainscott already has poorly thought-out commercial development, too much blacktop, and inappropriate signs. The planning board is on its way to making it worse.
It has fast-tracked the redevelopment by deeming it insignificant in terms of the effect on the environment, including traffic. Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the board could and should have asked for a thorough study of what the project, if approved, would mean for its surroundings. Instead, it ruled that it would have “no impact.” The traffic study that was done and the state’s response to it were inadequate.
One solution is not unprecedented: This would be for the Town of East Hampton to buy the property using money from the community preservation fund, level the buildings, and shrink the parking lot to make it a park, either by restoring the land to a natural state or by planting grass and trees. This was done to good effect at the former Mark R. Buick property on Pantigo Road in East Hampton Village. Of course, such action is highly unlikely, since the owner has indicated no interest that we know of in unloading the property, and the current town board is more interested in economic development than environmental preservation. But we can hope. Wainscott deserves better.