One Plan Tests Vision for Hamlet

Owners want 50 lots on largest commercial-industrial site left in Wainscott
The owners of the sand and gravel pit in Wainscott have a different vision for the property than that portrayed above in the draft of the Wainscott hamlet study commissioned by East Hampton Town and prepared by Dodson and Flinker, Fine Arts and Sciences, RKG Associates, and L.K. McLean Associates.

The hamlet-by-hamlet master plan that the East Hampton Town Planning board commissioned in 2016 and began rolling out in draft form earlier this month in a series of public meetings, starting with Wainscott, is intended to provide an integrated look at how the Town of East Hampton should evolve going forward. And it lays out a lovely, almost anything-is-possible vision for everything from village parklands to revitalized business districts.

But even when the entire hamlet master plan is approved, it won’t be a series of binding recommendations. It’s meant to be an educated wish list and possible action plan put together by the hired consultants who studied the town’s zoning laws and each hamlet in depth, and solicited residents’ opinions during workshops before making recommendations on what each hamlet could do.

Emphasis on “could.”

As the town planning board’s early engagement with just one stakeholder — the Tintle family, owners of a 70.4-acre sand and gravel pit in Wainscott through Wainscott Commercial Center L.L.C. — already suggests, it’s going to be a long and laborious process before Wainscott or any of the hamlets is dramatically reconfigured from end to end.

“The tricky part,” said Jeff Bragman, the East Hampton Town Board’s liaison to Wainscott’s Citizens Advisory Committee, “is how do you get from here to there? How do you make it a reality?”

In Wainscott’s case, the hamlet plan draft recommendations range from ways to build affordable housing to adding a congestion-thwarting traffic circle on Route 27 to environmental safeguards such as protecting Georgica Pond and the hamlet’s drinking water.

The study notes residents’ wishes to add a Long Island Rail Road stop in Wainscott, and their concerns that adding any housing could overwhelm the tiny Wainscott School. It recommends carving out beautiful green space and a recreation area that would serve as a more picturesque gateway to the rest of East Hampton town as it unfurls all the way to Montauk. It suggests requiring buildings to be aesthetically pleasing with architecture that reflects the local vernacular.

The Wainscott hamlet plan has detailed graphics, too, showing a reorganized and more pedestrian-friendly commercial district with bike paths, connected sidewalks, and a bigger consolidated parking area on the north side of Route 27 to encourage visitors to shop and linger longer, something the “strip mall character” of Wainscott’s existing business district doesn’t do now.

However, dealing with even one site — in this case, the sand pit, the largest parcel of commercial-industrial zoned land left in Wainscott — is bedeviled by complexities. 

The East Hampton Town Planning Board informed the Wainscott Commercial Center owners by letter that its January 2018 application to subdivide the site into 50 lots of about one acre each, all zoned for commercial-industrial use, does not dovetail with the town’s hamlet study for Wainscott.

“We think it does,” David Eagan, Wainscott Commercial Center’s senior vice president in charge of development, said by phone this week.

“It really does not,” Mr. Bragman said. The town planning board agrees with him.

In applications such as this one, state law requires the town to consider the impacts on the environment, public health, recreation, traffic, and other aspects.

In a letter sent by Greg Schantz, senior town planner, to Mr. Eagan and the Wainscott Commercial Center developers dated Sept. 13, the owners were told that the town planners are asking the applicants to conduct a detailed environmental impact statement on their subdivision proposal.

The developers were also told that East Hampton Town code requires the planning board to consider “an integrated plan which considers all necessary aspects of a subdivision,” but their proposal, as is, does not cover a long list of things the town would require if it were to approve the sand pit subdivision request. 

“The Department feels that there is a potential for significant adverse environmental impacts as a result of the proposed project,” according to the letter. The proposal “does not account for the construction that would most likely need to occur to create the subdivision, including but not limited to: paving for the streets, clearing and grading, fire protection, adequate drainage. There needs to be a traffic impact study.”

The planning board noted that the Suffolk County Department of Health Services found excess metal levels in groundwater tests at another sand and gravel pit on the South Fork, presumably Sand Land in Noyac, which John Tintle, one of the Wainscott pit owners, also owns.

At the Wainscott sand pit, the town planning board letter stated, “The southeastern corner of the property sits 500 feet from the waters of Georgica Pond. Georgica Pond has suffered greatly from various contamination sources and the planning board considers any potential for adverse impacts to this protected water body significant.”

“The site’s past use for intensive industrial activities warrants comprehensive soil and groundwater testing,” the letter said, adding that “A community wastewater system may also be required.”

Mr. Eagan said the sand pit’s owners are working to meet the town’s requirements, including conducting their own soil and groundwater testing.

He echoed Mr. Bragman’s contention that whatever changes happen in Wainscott thanks to the hamlet plan will take years — “if not decades,” Mr. Eagan said.

The rare size and unique importance of the sand pit parcel alone suggests a final determination on the site could be a long, drawn-out process.

Mr. Eagan said, “We did a study, and there are only about 20 commercial-industrial lots left in the entire town of East Hampton.” 

While his group envisions the sand pit staying zoned for commercial-industrial use, the town planners do not. Their letter also stated that the “property is more than three times the size of the existing Wainscott business area and, because of its size and location, will have an oversize influence on the future of Wainscott. The draft hamlet plan supports a balance of uses, with the south end of the pit incorporated into a village-style redevelopment off of Montauk Highway. The plan also suggests a large area of parkland within the former sand mine. It integrates the development of the property into the plan for the entire business area.”

The developers’ proposal “would preclude many of the mixed-use proposals the Wainscott hamlet study draft advocates,” according to town planners.

Several community members at the most recent Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee meeting suggested the town just buy the sand pit parcel outright. Rick Del Mastro, a longtime member of the Wainscott C.A.C., has been corresponding with Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and following up with the State Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure the state will conduct its own tests at the sand pit, and have access to the site even if the Wainscott Commercial Center owners resist — something that happened at Mr. Tintle’s other mine in Noyac and sparked litigation.

But Mr. Bragman and Mr. Eagan said no discussions for the town to buy the sand pit are underway. Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town’s planning director, confirmed that on Monday, adding, “The town wants to follow the hamlet plan.”

Even getting the hamlet master plan to this stage has been a long process. The draft has taken three years (and counting). The vision the hamlet plan lays out is based on existing zoning, not what may come. Even when it’s finally approved, Mr. Van Scoyoc has stressed, the hamlet plans are intended to be used to complement, not replace, the East Hampton Town Comprehensive Plan that was adopted in 2005.

For now, Mr. Eagan is promising a cooperative approach from his side.

“I think there’s a lot of fear out there,” Mr. Eagan said. “I think people are rightfully, justifiably concerned, and we understand that. But this is a long, good- faith effort by this family to move forward with this property. It happens to overlap with this study, and I think at the end of the day that will be beneficial to everybody. We can work with them.”

Mr. Bragman said once all of the draft hamlet plans are presented at public meetings, then tweaked as necessary, “What happens next is the town board eventually approves the hamlet vision plan.” And then? “Then we figure out what baby steps need to be taken to get the ball rolling.”

The draft hamlet plan for East Hampton will be presented tonight. Amagansett will be considered on Nov. 1, Springs on Nov. 15, and Montauk on Dec. 6. All the hearings will be held at Town Hall during the town board meetings that start at 6:30 p.m.

“It really is kind of a wish list,” Mr. Bragman added. “But it’s also useful. It helps you imagine what the reinvention of these towns can look like and plan it in an intelligent way.”