Planners Debate Chain Stores

The town board will hold a public hearing on the measure at 6:30 tonight at Town Hall

The East Hampton Town Planning Board weighed in at a meeting on July 9 on proposed town legislation that would set restrictions on formula or chain stores. The measure received a mixed reception, and the planners ultimately voted to recommend the legislation be approved by a vote of 4 to 3. The town board will hold a public hearing on the measure at 6:30 tonight at Town Hall.

“It is a very arbitrary piece of legislation,” said Bob Schaeffer, a longtime member of the planning board. He noted that the planning board had been asked for its opinion on similar legislation in April, and said, “We gave our comments the first time around, and they were not mentioned. Why are we doing this?”

He pointed out that the new legislation was a substantial reworking of the first go-round but still found it wanting. The revision increased from 10 to 15 the number of stores nationwide that would be considered  a chain. “Who came up with this number?” he asked.

Ian Calder-Piedmonte, another member of the board, was adamant about the dangers of the bill, warning of “unintended consequences.” He cautioned on its effect on working families. “This is a very expensive place to live. This could be a hurdle to keep certain stores out that could be helpful to people.”

The third member opposing the legislation was Pat Schutte, who spoke out strongly about it. “There will be no more supermarkets, no more gas stations,” he said.

Among those who expressed approval of the reworked bill was Nancy Keeshan, who said it would help the architectural review board as well as the planning board in explaining what a business could and could not do. “It will give us a little more teeth,” she said.

Reed Jones, the panel’s chairman, also expressed support. “We all agree we have something very special out here. Other towns have enacted similar legislation, and it has been challenged in court and has been upheld.” Job Potter, who was not at the meeting, expressed support for the bill as well, according to the chairman.

In the end, it was the member Diana Weir whose thoughts carried the day. “I’m not crazy about this, but it is a better piece of legislation,” she said. She complimented the town board for the modifications that had been made, saying the previous effort would likely not have held up in court.

“It is constitutionally respectful of business,” she said, before echoing Ms. Keeshan that the proposal would aid other town agencies in setting guidelines for what chain stores can and cannot do when they open in the Town of East Hampton.