Imagining a Centralized Village

Architects offer ‘guerrilla plan’ that envisions new pedestrian-friendly hubs
In two architects’ reimagining of East Hampton Village, the area adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road station would become a commercial, civic, and recreational hub. Behrooz, Engel, Wong & Liang

Sixteen years removed from the drafting of its comprehensive plan, East Hampton Village is the recipient of a “guerrilla plan” that its creators say would address environmental, transportation, and housing deficiencies while connecting existing and new hubs of activity, restoring the pedestrian and bicycle-friendly village of years past. 

Maziar Behrooz and Bruce Engel, East Hampton architects, took it upon themselves to design a symbiotic “Vision for the Village of East Hampton,” the subject of an article in the debut issue of End magazine. They discussed the document before an audience at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill last Thursday and hope to present it to village officials. 

The Main Street commercial district is bisected by Route 27, a state highway, which is problematic for pedestrians, the architects posited. Guild Hall and the East Hampton Library, the village’s cultural and educational institutions, are not only across that highway from each other, but are distant from the village’s three public schools. 

A goal of the vision, Mr. Behrooz said, is to “extend the village density away from Main Street.” One way to accomplish this, the architects suggested, is to place “the new Guild Hall” in a building adjacent to the East Hampton Middle School. Also adjacent would be a library and a technology and fabrication lab. 

These would be in proximity to the Long Island Rail Road station, on Railroad Avenue, which the architects called an emerging second hub that is at present underutilized but encompasses locally owned stores and the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter. 

“We tried to reimagine,” Mr. Engel said. “How can we bring more activity into this area and take advantage of some of these spaces along the train track?” The idea, he said, “is that maybe everything can happen here, and people can interact and support the local businesses in a more fruitful way.” A two-tier garage, half of which would be underground, would occupy the land currently housing Schenck Fuels, with access from Newtown and Osborne Lanes, alleviating traffic. 

This area, Mr. Behrooz pointed out, is close to “an incredible set of farms. . . . It’s not only an incredible scenic environment, but the produce that you get from these farms is used by the community and restaurants.” 

A waste treatment facility adjacent to the farms would address the water quality degradation for which aging and inefficient septic systems are blamed. “None of the proposal is feasible, or even more development, period, without addressing water quality and wastewater treatment,” Mr. Engel said.

The Reutershan municipal parking lot and Herrick Park would also be reconsidered. “We tried to imagine this area . . . as a potential new town square,” Mr. Engel said, similar to Amagansett Square. “East Hampton Village needs a place like this.” Driverless cars will soon be a reality, he said, so “over time, the parking lot becomes more of a town square, a place where pop-up shops can come, a farmers market, and so on.” Solar canopies would connect and extend Gingerbread Lane to the long-term parking lot and Main Street, he said. 

As a secondary hub, Railroad Avenue would become a natural fit for the post office and CVS, the architects said, allowing parents to complete shopping and errands as well as pick up their children at school or the playing fields at Herrick Park. 

Like Schenck Fuels, Riverhead Building Supply, on Railroad Avenue, is in a less than ideal location. “We feel that perhaps even they would not like to be in this location anymore,” Mr. Behrooz said, citing traffic difficulties both businesses endure. Left unsaid was a suggestion as to where these businesses would relocate. 

Finally, small, affordable housing would be placed “directly in the middle of the village,” including clusters of houses between Muchmore and Pleasant Lanes, the architects said. This, Mr. Engel said, would also “help ‘densify’ what’s right now a pretty spread-out center of the village, to help not just create more housing, but places that are walkable and nice to move around.” A block of apartments at the western edge of the village would house the seasonal influx of workers that support the village’s businesses. “Since many of those workers are carless, they could maintain being carless by living in the village proper and being able to walk to and from their jobs and amenities.”

Does this plan apply to the real world? “The article itself was thought provoking and stimulating in its content,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said yesterday. “There’s a host of issues that I think you have to deal with in a world of reality, as opposed to idealistically.” But, he said, “something could come out of it. . . . My suggestion would be to offer an invitation to the authorship, let them come in and offer it to the village board at a work session.” 

“Some of the recommendations are certainly thought provoking and definitely outside of the box,” said Becky Hansen, the village administrator. “This could be a discussion point for some policies in the future.” 

Bill Chaleff, an architect who advised the authors, was more bullish on the ideas put forth. “I find my life is bounded by the laws of physics, so to that degree I am a realist,” he said. “But I also find there are rules and regulations that are words on paper, and when sufficient amounts of political will are mustered and educational efforts joined with that, the conventional wisdom can change about what’s appropriate, and things that have been in practice for over 100 years can suddenly shift.”

Degraded water quality, Mr. Chaleff said, demands a change in land use and settlement patterns. “I think these changes are more in order and more likely to occur than most people think, and on an abbreviated time scale,” he said. The unbuilt landscape has multiple, specific functions, and “we have to change our perspective to include that functionality, and be sure the unbuilt and built landscapes work harmoniously and interdependently.”