Retail Use Is Questioned

A site plan that would allow Tiina the Store, on Amagansett Main Street, to demolish a back building and part of its main building, is once again facing possible derailment.

East Hampton Town planning board members, meeting on Aug. 23, discussed a letter from Anne Glennon, the town’s chief building inspector, questioning the validity of the site’s retail use. If it had at some point been abandoned, she wrote, then the store’s current certificate of occupancy was invalid.

Tiina Laakkonen and Jonathan Rosen, the store’s owners, want to tear down a 937-square-foot back building and remove 769 square feet from the main building. The lost square footage would be replaced by a 1,605-square-foot addition to the main building, with a slight net reduction in the overall size. The property is in the Amagansett Historic District, which is zoned for residential and limited business use. Limited business does not include retail.

This was the second hearing on the proposal in August. The first was held on Aug. 9, with speakers and letter-writers almost all in support. This time, Eric Schantz of the Planning Department told the board that the proposal was ready for final approval. 

Board members had wondered in June whether the proposal was in keeping with the character of the 32 buildings in the historic district, which tend to have larger structures in front and smaller ones set back. The proposed addition would make the main building “very massive” Patti Leber said at the time.

John Jilnicki, the board’s attorney, later determined, however, that the board’s hands were essentially tied, since the town’s architectural review board had already approved the proposal. Ian CalderPiedmonte, who has expressed overall support for the plan, objected to an applicant sidestepping the planning board by going straight to the A.R.B., and other board members agreed.

However, Andy Hammer, who represents the owners and is shepherding the application through the site plan process, has suggested it was the board itself that suggested they visit A.R.B. first.

On Aug. 23, the validity of the C of O for the retail use became the central question. Job Potter, chairman, began the discussion: “I want to bring up the letter we received from Anne Glennon . . . which raises a question, unfortunately, about the validity of the C of O.” 

He asked Mr. Jilnicki to weigh in. 

“She believes there was a period of time where there appeared to be no retail use on the property, and that could mean that the retail use was lost,” Mr. Jilnicki said. If that becomes the Building Department’s final determination, he said, the zoning board of appeals would have to review it.

“So the C of O is valid right now,” Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said. “It would be up to the zoning board and the building inspector to determine if it weren’t.” He then asked if, by approving the proposal, and assuming the applicant then did the requested work, might not the planning board in fact be creating a new C of O? 

“No. That wouldn’t change the existing conditions,” Mr. Jilnicki responded.

Mr. Potter continued exploring the question, asking what would happen if the board approved the plan and the C of O was then found to be invalid. “What would happen is, they would basically have to default to another use,” Mr. Jilnicki said. 

“But we are approving that use, too, right?” Mr. Calder-Piedmonte asked. “Not really,” Mr. Jilnicki answered. “The use exists at this point on the C.O. that was issued. It is valid until such time as it is revoked.”

“It is worrisome for a planning board to approve a C.O. that is in question,” said Mr. Potter.

“I feel a little pressured to move forward on this,” Kathleen Cunningham said. “Because the A.R.B. already gave it an approval, we’re kind of sandwiched in here. We are not getting the chance to do the work we are meant to do. I am a little uncomfortable with it at this point.” Patti Leber expressed a similar sentiment, while Diana Weir supported the proposal. 

Mr. Potter pointed out that two board members, Randy Parsons and Nancy Keeshan, were not in attendance that night, and said the board would take the matter up again when all members are present.