No Stone Left Unturned In Hamlet Study

East Hampton Town Hall might well be built on a foundation of forgotten studies. But much of what was presented this week in a series of hamlet study proposals has the makings of substantial change for the better. Ideas ranged from improving traffic patterns to providing more affordable housing, along with a blockbuster: relocating a considerable portion of commercial development in Montauk that is threatened by erosion.

A redesigned downtown in Montauk would shift density away from the ocean shoreline and from the narrow flood zone at Fort Pond where a grocery store and 7-Eleven are today. The so-called front row of motels and residences would be removed and rebuilt to modern flood-proof standards behind a restored beach and natural-appearing dunes. In a future phase, assuming that sea level continues to rise, yet more structures would be eliminated and Montauk Highway elevated across a wetland where, from time to time, Fort Pond would breach and open to the ocean. 

Elsewhere in Montauk, a proposal is for vulnerable houses along West Lake Drive to be removed from the 100-year-flood zone. Near the harbor inlet, a section of road would be removed, with dune restoration and additional relocation of structures away from Block Island Sound.

This is headline-grabbing stuff. For a long time, people who watch the coast have said that Montauk needed serious attention. Behind the scenes, a town coastal resiliency committee has been working on plans that are expected to dovetail with the hamlet studies. And yet, given how massive the redesign of much of Montauk would be, its effect on town residents would be minimal.

Much more important for those in other parts of town are prescriptions for affordable housing and how people get around. These include more second-floor apartments, as well as new work force houses adjacent to commercial areas. Redevelopment of two sand mines, one on Springs-Fireplace Road, the other in Wainscott, would provide so-called mixed-use areas, houses and apartments in one portion, parkland in another, and businesses in another. The property at the former Stern’s department store on Pantigo Road would be redesigned this way. The land adjacent to the Amagansett I.G.A. might have additional shops as well as apartments.

Throughout the studies is a commitment to the environment. For example, no new initiative for sewage treatment should encourage development. Effort is to be made to provide more trails and link them together, along with a waterfront route at Three Mile Harbor. Community character is stressed, too, with a commitment to recognizing and preserving vernacular architecture and streetscapes. Work-truck parking, which has been a sore point in some parts of town, could be provided in designated locations.

Over all, there is a lot to digest in these hamlet plans, and surely a great deal of debate to follow, but they appear to be a worthy start in which no one has tried to avoid even the most difficult questions.