“Does anyone know who’s buying the old Pacific East space in Amagansett?” someone inquired on the Web site chowhound.com in May of 2008.
There was no answer then, but there may be one soon.
The restaurant and nightclub, on a two-acre site just west of the Amagansett Firehouse, has been for sale since Sept. 29, 2007. The original asking price, set at the crest of a strong market, was $8.5 million, Htun Han, an Amagansett real estate broker, said this week. But it came down fast after the recession began, to $6.5 million and eventually to $4 million.
“Make an offer,” implored the Saunders and Associates listing. Apparently nobody did.
Enter now the Amagansett Fire District, which surprised the community last week with the news that it is in contract with the owners of Pacific East to buy the property for $2.8 million, pending a referendum. The vote, to be taken on Oct. 4 at the firehouse, will be preceded there a week earlier, on Sept. 27, by an informational meeting and discussion of the purchase.
Fire district officials outlined their plans for the property on Monday night before a well-attended meeting of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. Jack Emptage, a fire district commissioner who has been at the forefront of the drive, said the 7,155-square-foot building, which he described as “a total shambles,” would be used for training for a time before being put to the torch in a controlled burn. “The building has no real interest to us,” he said. A new one would go up in its stead, to be used primarily to house ambulances.
“We believe we will have to go from two ambulances to three, and we need a facility to do that,” Mr. Emptage explained. “With the increasing average age of the community, we have an increased number of ambulance calls every year. In July alone, we responded to 98 ambulance calls,” almost twice as many, he said, as in 2010.
Amagansett ambulance coverage extends across the Napeague stretch, the scene of all-too-frequent late-night auto accidents, and on out to Hither Hills State Park, taking in a number of motels and condominium complexes along the way.
Besides ambulances, the new building would be a base for emergency medical technicians and contain training quipment. Currently, Amagansett E.M.T.s are volunteers, but the district has said it may need to hire paid personnel in the future
With one or two exceptions, the audience at the citizens committee meeting reacted enthusiastically to the proposed purchase. “I feel the timing is perfect,” said Mr. Han, who was there in his capacity as a critical-care E.M.T. “To get two acres in the heart of Amagansett for $2.8 million is a rare opportunity.” Several people gasped when the price was announced.
One woman wanted to know why vacant land behind the firehouse could not be used for the new building. Mr. Emptage answered that it was needed for helicopter landings and training. “We use the field for medevac all the time,” he said. “The land that’s left is insufficient.”
Someone else asked what the purchase would mean in terms of property taxes. “Taxes will go up as a function of the market value of your home,” Mr. Emptage said. “I think, less than a mug of beer at your uncle’s saloon once a week,” he added. The figure has yet to be determined.
The property tax on Pacific East now is $27,975.26. The owner, listed as Asmac L.L.C., has not paid the taxes, however, for the last three years. The parcel would be taken off the tax rolls if the sale to the fire district goes through.
There was also a question from the audience about the timing of the public referendum. “There’s a minute window between the hearing and the referendum,” a woman said. “I feel just a sense that we’re rushing to it. Seven days between the time you meet and the vote?”
Mr. Emptage paused for a moment before answering. “On the timing issue. The current owner was most anxious to get a deal and go away,” he said. “We would not have been able to get this good a deal. . . . “ He stopped. “We were, frankly, between a rock and a hard place.”
He would not elaborate, but a look at the East Hampton Town Code and a visit to the building inspector’s office sheds some light. The question is whether or not a restaurant could still be opened at the location. If yes, then the fire district has made a good deal; if no, maybe not.
The building, at 415 Main Street, is in a residential zone, but it was in commercial operation before zoning was adopted. This classified it as a legal pre-existing and nonconforming use. There have been restaurants and nightclubs there since at least 1955, from the Elm Tree Inn to Martell’s to Oceans to Pacific East. That means a new restaurant might be able to operate there today, which would make the property a lot more valuable, even in a down market.
But there’s a catch. The code says that if there has been no commercial use of a nonconforming place for 18 months, it is considered abandoned and the pre-existing classification expires.
To all appearances, no one has bought a drink or dinner at Pacific East for years. But appearances can be deceiving. Someone evidently did, and has done so all along, including at least once in the last 18 months.
According to Tom Preiato, the town’s senior building inspector, the time limit in the code was last satisfied in March of 2010. He declined to say by whom, but said that the commercial use was “good for 18 months,” or until sometime next month.
Kieran Brew, vice chairman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee and himself a firefighter, told Monday’s meeting that yes indeed, the Building Department had said the place could be a nightclub once more. Those in attendance were asked for a show of hands, after which the committee voted unanimously “to support the fire district in this effort.”