Thinking About Downtown

Moving into the new year and cognizant of changes to downtowns nationwide and locally, the East Hampton Village Board has signaled that it is willing to consider new rules that might bring more life to Main Street and Newtown Lane. This is welcome, though any policy shifts would have to be made very carefully in order to maintain or even improve the commercial district’s character.

One new vision was presented in October to the village board by a group of architects, who offered a sketch of a greener and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly village with more places to live for working residents and centralized cultural attractions. More recently, the board spoke favorably about relaxing the longstanding prohibition on new restaurants or takeout shops. Done thoughtfully, such changes could add vitality to East Hampton Village, serving workers, residents, and visitors alike.

Also in the wind, but to be watched with substantial concern, is a proposal to relax rules about village inns and hotels, one of which seeks a major renovation. Because nearly all of these accommodations are in the designated historic district, the greatest degree of caution is warranted. 

For the most part, village inns and hotels, though few, were established before land-use rules were adopted, allowing them in close proximity to residences and in places where modernization might produce unsightly or overbearing effects on Main Street. 

In recent years, some hotel and inn owners have pushed the limits. In several instances, they have annexed nearby houses or garages, gradually converting them into guest rooms of questionable legality. Though these increasingly corporate businesses have the right to make a profit, they have proven by their own actions to be too aggressive as neighbors. Any zoning code changes they or their advocates suggest should be viewed with healthy skepticism.