County Deals Major Setback to 555 Developers

In 11-2 vote Suffolk Planning Commission rejects rezoning bid
David E. Rattray

A Suffolk Planning Commission decision on Wednesday against a zone change that would have allowed a 79-unit luxury housing complex on 24 acres of farmland in Amagansett has set the odds that the project will be approved at essentially zero.

The developers of the so-called 555 Amagansett project had asked East Hampton Town to create a new senior citizen housing zoning district and to rezone the Montauk Highway property to that designation. The proposed development is not allowed under current zoning.

Although the Suffolk Planning Commission's opinions are largely advisory, leaving ultimate authority for zoning decisions to the town, when the commission votes against a proposal, a majority-plus-one vote of a local board is needed to override the denial.

The East Hampton Town Board, in a split vote along party lines, had set a Dec. 19 date for public hearings on both creating the new zone and then applying it to the property.

The board's two Democrats, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, have spoken out against the proposals, but there was fear 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 have made approval of the controversial zone changes highly unlikely. According to David L. Calone, the Suffolk Planning Commission chairman, the entire incoming East Hampton Town Board had written to the commission asking it to reject the project.

Since the Dec. 19 hearings were scheduled, a growing public campaign against the zone changes arose. With the super-majority vote needed now to override the county commission, the opponents' fears have likely been assuaged.

County planning staff had recommended that the commission give a thumbs-up to both requests, but, after hearing comments from East Hampton's representative on the commission, John Whelan, and a number of speakers from the public, the commission voted 11 to 2 in opposition to the requests.

Mr. Whelan said Thursday that the commission's primary concern was that the zoning changes would allow development counter to several goals of the town's comprehensive plan. In addition, he said, 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.