Comments at an East Hampton Town Board hearing last Thursday on the proposed rezoning of the Wainscott Post Office site, on the corner of the Montauk Highway and Wainscott Northwest Road, from residential to a central business designation revealed two schools of thought.
Those in favor made the argument that restrictions on nonconforming properties like the almost one-acre lot in question, which limit or preclude building changes or expansions, result in deteriorated properties that are underutilized.
Others urged the board not to undermine the overall zoning plan in place, which aimed to phase out certain uses on particular sites by zoning them for other purposes. One change will lead to another, they warned, and could allow commercial activities to expand inappropriately.
“It might be different if this were on the corner of Beach Lane, or next to the school on Wainscott Main Street, but this is the Montauk Highway, a pretty busy corner,” said Stuyvesant Wainwright, an attorney for the property owner, a limited-liability corporation called Wainscott Pooh, said at the hearing.
The post office lease runs until 2019, and there are no plans to make changes before then, he said. But after that, under current zoning, he said, there is “an extremely short list of realistic and viable uses of the property should it continue to be zoned residential.” The only practical future use under the residential zoning, he asserted, would be to place a medical arts building there.
In order to allay concerns about problematic future uses of the site which would be legal under commercial zoning, the property owners would agree to place covenants and restrictions on the site in perpetuity, preventing, for instance, its use for a gas station, nightclub, movie theater, or fast food restaurant, Mr. Wainwright said.
Health Department regulations would preclude a “wet use” such as a restaurant, deli, or tavern on the property, said Laurie Wiltshire, a land planner working for the property owners.
In addition, Mr. Wainwright said, should the board desire, they would commission a traffic study to examine current traffic in the area and analyze what kind of traffic might be expected to be generated by a variety of potential future uses.
Under commercial zoning, Mr. Wainwright said, any development plan for the lot would require planning board and architectural review board approval.
Michael Davis, who said he is in contract to buy property west of the post office site at the corner of Sayre’s Path and Montauk Highway, said it is a “win-win situation” when nonconforming commercial buildings in a residential district are rezoned, allowing owners to expand or improve them.
Right now, he said, it is “quite an embarrassment” coming into Wainscott.
“What you just heard is the beginnig of the undoing of the comprehensive plan of 2005,” Debra Foster, a former town councilwoman, said after Mr. Davis’s comments. Land along the south side of the highway in Wainscott was deliberately left residential to limit its development and maintain a greenbelt, she said. “I get on the Jitney in New York on the right side, so that when I get to my hometown I see green,” Ms. Foster said.
If the post office site is rezoned, she said, it will be the beginning of a “house of cards,” with nearby property owners making the same appeal. “It’s going to be the beginning of the end for our entrance to East Hampton,” she said. “And if you allow it here, why not Amagansett?”
Jose Arandia, a Wainscott resident agreed. “I don’t believe that this proposal is going to benefit the community in any way,” he said. A number of commercial properties in Wainscott are unused, he said, or are shuttered in winter. “If that’s not blight, I don’t know what is,” he said. “We would be better off using what we do have.”
In a letter read into the record by Mr. Wainwright, the owner of Twin Pines Realty in Wainscott, also along the strip of highway in question, complained of his inability to make changes to his own nonconforming building, and supported the rezoning.
In letters submitted for the hearing, the East Hampton Business Alliance and Paul Monte, president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, supported the zone change and, generally, efforts to allow nonconforming businesses to expand.
However, under the zoning code, restrictions on nonconforming buildings in a particular zone are meant to insure that a use that is incompatible with current zoning is eventually phased out.
In an April 11 letter to the town board, the planning board recommended against the zone change. The Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee also submitted a letter opposing the rezoning.
Both the Wainscott Pooh request, and another recent appeal by Main Street Amagansett property owners to restore limited-business zoning to a residence there, have raised questions about “spot zoning,” the illegal singling out of a parcel for rezoning.
At the close of the hearing last week, Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley asked John Jilnicki, the town attorney, to prepare a memo for the board on the issue. She also asked for further information regarding what kind of development could take place on the Wainscott parcel.