No Senior Housing, No Balasses Expansion

       After almost a year’s buildup, the East Hampton Town Board has rejected a developer’s request to rezone 24 acres on Montauk Highway in Amagansett, known as 555, for 79 units of luxury housing for older residents.

       In turning down the request on Tuesday, a unanimous board cited the loss of farmland and the use of acreage that now would allow affordable housing for a project that would not provide that. The idea of a new town zoning district, said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, was “generated by the developer; not a community-based effort, not something the community decided we need.”

       Putnam Bridge, the Connecticut company that owns the land, at the eastern edge of the hamlet, had asked the town to establish a new senior citizens housing zoning district there, allowing denser development than the code now permits.

       A public hearing, held open from December at the developers’ request, was held on the proposal at last Thursday’s town board meeting. Town board members that night rejected another request to hold the hearing open.

       Also on Tuesday, the board turned down another Amagansett-centric request, this time from the owners of the former Balasses House antiques shop on the corner of Hedges Lane and Montauk Highway in the center of the hamlet. They were seeking a change from the property’s residential zoning, with a limited-business overlay allowing certain kinds of commercial use, to a central business designation, which would have expanded its potential uses.

       Four of the five board members were unified in their opposition to the Balasses House zone change, but Councilman Fred Overton said he would like to hear more from town attorneys about the limitations placed on the property by its location in the Amagansett Historic District. With the historic district restrictions, and perhaps an agreement from the owners not to establish certain kinds of businesses there, he suggested a central business designation might be acceptable.

       During the Balasses House hearing last Thursday, JoAnne Pahwul, assistant  director of the East Hampton Town Planning Department, said it was the department’s consensus that a change in zone was counter to several recommendations in the town comprehensive plan. There were concerns as well, she said, about setting a precedent that could be applied to neighboring limited-business zone properties.

       The planning board, Ms. Pahwul said,  cited the prospect of heavier traffic generated by a more intense use of the property, and, she said, worry over the impact of decreased setbacks from nearby properties.

       Richard Whalen, the attorney for the owners, Max and Katherine Bergmann, who inherited the property from their father, Tom Bergmann, cited sections of the code referring to the goals of limiting highway sprawl and clustering commercial development in downtown areas.

        “We’re not in the highway areas that I think the [limited business overlay] was designed to limit the development of,” he said. “We’re not on the highway; we’re on Amagansett Main Street . . . I don’t think that’s an intensification of use in downtown Amagansett.”

       And, he said, because the lot is in the Amagansett Historic District, it is unlikely there could be substantial changes to the buildings.

       Margaret Turner,  executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, spoke in favor of the zone change at the hearing. “If you keep restricting businesses, this town is going to wither on the vine,” she said.

       “Why Balasses House was zoned [limited business overlay] is unclear,” Ms. Turner said, “except maybe because it looks like a house . . . It is in the center of the Amagansett business district, where business should be.”

       “What you’ve just heard is how the center of a historic small community gets slashed. Not with a big bang, but with a thousand cuts. It’s like the camel’s head in the door,” Debra Foster, a former town councilwoman, told the board. The town board, she said, must look at zoning “comprehensively.”

       Ms. Pahwul agreed. “If you’re going to expand the central business district, then we recommend you take a broader look,” she said.