A 17,500-square-foot retail store at the former Plitt Ford property on Montauk Highway in Wainscott is closer to reality following the East Hampton Town Planning Board’s unofficial nod of approval on March 7.
An official vote approving the plan is expected in the coming weeks.
If the property owner, Gregg Saunders, had his way, the space would be used for a grocery store. But regardless of what business eventually occupies the building, the architecture will be the same, he said.
“I want a food store, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, that is what I want, that’s what people here want, but it is hard to convince executives who don’t live here that this can be year-round.” If not a food store, the priority would be either a drugstore or, failing that, a furniture store, said Mr. Saunders, a developer of retail spaces across the country who has a house in Sagaponack.
“I never thought I’d develop where I live,” Mr. Saunders said in an interview. When he heard the 1.9-acre parcel was available a year and a half ago, he scooped it up. “I develop all over the country. But I live here. I shop here. I shop at the fish market, the bagel shop, Breadzilla. I eat at the pizza restaurant. I thought, let me put something nice here. Whatever it is. A business hub.”
The one-story shingled building will have a parking lot for 98 cars that will enter and leave via a driveway on the east side of the property that will be shared with neighboring businesses. It will have a 12,500-square-foot basement.
Mr. Saunders does not see the project as a “superstore,” and said he plans to be very selective about what business occupies the location. He has, he said, “already turned down several prospective tenants, including a national self-storage company, a car wash, and a well-known fast food chain.”
“I feel within one month I’ll have someone in there,” Mr. Saunders said. “The more business we bring to this hub, the better for everybody. It creates jobs and taxes.”
There was no public opposition to the building at the hearing, but the traffic that the development could bring was another story.
Barbara Miller, a year-round resident of Wainscott, spoke at the hearing. “I live on Wainscott Northwest Road, right around the corner from the site. I can tell you there is a major problem with the traffic on 27 right now,” she told the board.
“It’s a good thing in general; it’s going to be good for the economy. But what I really am concerned about is the traffic,” Ms. Miller said after the hearing.
Once a hub store is put on the property, Ms. Miller believes that it will be impossible for shoppers who want to head east to make the left onto Montauk Highway. “Out of desperation, everybody exiting the site will have to turn right. But they actually want to head east, so they’re going to go to the next corner, make the right, go down to Cow Hill Lane, make that right, cut around the neighborhood to Wainscott Northwest Road, then head south to the light to head east. To the residents who live north of this structure, it’s incredibly unfair. It is going to be a thoroughfare there.”
“The big issue is traffic,” Bob Schaeffer, the planning board member whose district is Wainscott, said Monday, while not wanting to comment on the specifics of the proposal in front of the board. “Dunn Engineering did the original [traffic] study, the State Department of Transportation came back with a long reply to it. There was a very extensive study.”
“Traffic is the issue for everyone but welcome to the Hamptons,” Diana Weir, another board member who lives in Wainscott, said Sunday.
Ms. Miller suggested that an egress onto Wainscott Northwest Road might be a solution, but Peter Cook, the architect on the project, said that during the design phase that very option had been explored with the adjacent property owners but that none of them were willing to allow for such an egress.
Concerns about traffic were not enough to delay the process any further. A formal vote to approve the plans could come as soon as Wednesday.