Board to Consider Zoning Changes

Petitions have been circulating against all of the proposals.

    Four East Hampton Town Board hearings next Thursday on requests for changes to the town zoning code are expected to draw a crowd. Petitions have been circulating against all of the proposals.

    Two of the projects, however — including the most controversial, the proposed 555 Amagansett 79-unit senior citizens housing development — are unlikely to gain traction in the face of a thumbs-down issued last week by the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

    A town board must have a majority-plus-one vote to act counter to the commission’s advisory vote against a zoning request. Two of the board’s five members — its Democrats, Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby — have already taken a stance against both the 555 project and a proposed downzoning of 19 acres of farmland along Cedar Street in East Hampton, from a five-acre minimum lot size to a one-acre minimum. The two voted against holding hearings on the requests.

    Putnam Bridge, the developers behind 555, have asked town officials to create a new zoning category, a senior citizens housing overlay district, and to place their land, the 24-acre former Principi farm on Montauk Highway, into it.

    John Talmage, through a limited partnership called Diamond T, has requested a zone change on his family’s Cedar Street land so that 16 house lots could be created, with 25 percent of the property to become an agricultural reserve. Under the current zoning and a farmland designation, the site could contain only four house lots, with 70 percent of it set aside as an agricultural reserve.

    Mr. Talmage has been appealing to the town board for months, arguing that  a classification of the farmland as “prime soils” — the basis for two upzonings to date — was erroneous. Therefore, he has said, the parcel should be returned to its original one-acre residential zoning.

    Town officials have expressed concern that doing so would set a precedent that could be applied to other East Hampton farmlands, resulting in the loss of those areas for farming.

    The third proposal scheduled for a hearing next Thursday is on a proposal to change the zoning classification on a property at the corner of Amagansett’s Main Street and Hedges Lane from a half-acre residential zone, with limited business uses allowed, to a central business designation, adding the potential for more commercial uses. The property, which is in the Amagansett Historic District, had until recently been the location of Balasses House Antiques.

    Yesterday, inconsistencies came to light in the language of the resolution passed unanimously by the town board setting the hearing on the rezoning, and it had not been determined by press time what course of action must legally be taken.

    As of early this week, close to 1,500 people had signed an online petition, at change.org, against all of the rezonings, and organizers were hoping to increase that number to 2,000, according to an e-mailed appeal.

    The petition calls the proposed zoning code changes a “last minute raid on our zoning code [that] increases overdevelopment,” being perpetrated by the outgoing town board Republicans’ “Wilkinson majority . . . as their last act before stepping down from power.”

    “They could immediately adopt zoning regulations contrary to the goals of our comprehensive plan,” the petition says.

    By far the deepest concern has centered on the so-called 555 project, which as proposed is not allowed under current zoning. The 79-unit complex would include both houses and apartments for persons aged 55 and up to be sold at market rates, except for eight apartments to be marketed as “affordable” housing, at $550,000.

    The county planning commissioners, in their 11 to 2 vote against the proposal on Dec. 4, said that the development is counter to several goals of the town comprehensive plan, echoing advice by town planners to the town board. Commissioners noted that the 555 plan lacked affordable housing, that appropriate environmental review of the proposals had not taken place, and that it would allow development on prime agricultural soil, saving virtually none of it. The allowable development of the site under current zoning would require preservation of 70 percent of the farmland.

    Residents opposed to the large-scale development feared that the outgoing Republican majority might vote after the hearings, which are set for the board’s last scheduled meeting of the year, to approve the developer’s request.

    A new Democratic board majority will take office next year, which would make approval of the controversial zone changes highly unlikely.

    According to David L. Calone, the planning commission chairman, the entire incoming town board – four Democrats and a Republican — wrote to the commission asking it to reject the project.