If the East Hampton Town Board votes to approve a new zoning classification for 555 Montauk Highway in Amagansett, it will do so without the approval of the town planning board, judging by its Nov. 20 meeting.
The controversial action, which would establish a new “senior citizen housing overlay district” for a 23.5-acre parcel of former farmland, was discussed toward the end of a two-hour meeting.
The planning board has been asked by the town board to weigh in on the change, which the town board intends to consider at its last meeting of the year, on Dec. 19. The new zone would allow for far denser development than anywhere else in town. If the town board approves it, it will decide immediately afterward whether to apply it to the 555 development.
Planning board members appeared to indicate that while a new zone for senior citizens might not be a bad idea, the town board will be acting on its own if it applies the change to the specific parcel under discussion.
“I’m not against creating a new zone,” Diana Weir, a member, said. “Now, where that zone is placed is a different issue . . . We should look into a new zone, but the public should be involved.”
Another member, Ian Calder-Piedmonte, had strongly questioned the proposed new zoning at previous planning meetings. Last week he went further. “I can’t support the zone change as written,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with the comprehensive plan.”
The town’s comprehensive plan, which was revised in 2005, offers guidance to future development — what kind, and where it might go, among other things. JoAnn Pahwul, the assistant director of the Planning Department, wrote a scathing memo to the town board about the proposed change, pointing out that the 555 property is currently zoned for both affordable housing and agriculture, in addition to six or seven detached houses.
Mr. Calder-Piedmonte took up that point. “This land is farmable,” he said. “We’d be losing both an affordable housing overlay and an ag overlay . . . I don’t think this is the right spot. I don’t think this is the right legislation.” Mr. Calder-Piedmonte is himself a partner in Amagansett’s Balsam Farms.
Nancy Keeshan also referenced the comprehensive plan, saying that while senior citizen housing is needed in the town, affordable senior citizen housing is desperately needed. “Our seniors are being transplanted,” she said, referring to longtime residents who have moved away.
Reed Jones, chairman, then weighed in. “I do not think that overlay is an appropriate place on Montauk Highway.”
“They came to us with 89 units,” he said, “then they came back to us with a haircut, 79 units. I don’t think that’s much of a haircut.”
But the chairman cautioned that the project’s opponents need to appreciate that it is privately held land, and will, at some point, be developed.
The board was short-handed on the night of the 20th. J.P. Foster was unable to attend and Robert Schaeffer had to leave early. Both are expected to be present on Dec. 11, when members will draw up a final recommendation