Two years ago, when CVS wanted to put one of their drugstores in the very center of downtown Bridgehampton by the 10-foot obelisk of the Founders Monument, an outcry went up from the populace. People protested, carrying placards on the site on several occasions. They even put their signs in the lawn of the Founders Monument, which sits on its grassy island in the center of the highway to mark the hamlet center.
In a small town of little shops, churches, antique stores and restaurants, it is a bad idea to place a major chain store two stories high, with an escalator between the two floors, as a 9,000-square-foot commercial building to welcome you to the community.
The building that was to go up there had already been approved. It was to be a foursquare white Greek Revival structure similar in style and color to those on two of the other three corners of the town center. Its zoning would allow small shops on the ground floor and offices on the second.
In the end, CVS backed out of its lease agreement there. Instead, CVS was told the Town would look favorably on a CVS tenancy if it took its place in a new small shopping area in the works that had been proposed for land zoned as highway business a mile west of downtown across from the Bridgehampton Commons shopping center. The new development would be less than half the size of the Commons across the street. With more stores in that area, prices would stay competitive for the people who come from near and far to shop at the 30 stores at the Commons, the only place with down-to-earth middle-class prices in the Hamptons. Across the street would be about 12 new shops.
As for the beautiful Greek Revival building where CVS had earlier been scheduled, it is now almost fully built and will soon host a series of small boutiques and offices just as initially planned for the center of downtown Bridgehampton.
Now comes this shocker. At a meeting held by the Town for public comment on the new shopping center, now called Gateway, vocal opponents were demanding that the entire acreage of this new shopping center be purchased from the developer and preserved. These demands were coming largely because there’s a wealthy six-mansion enclave built just to the west of where Gateway is proposed. This six-home development, with an enormous metal gate preventing unwelcome outsiders from getting in, was created nearly 20 years ago on half of what was then a field of sticker bushes, low shrubs and trees between the busy Montauk Highway and Kellis Pond, about 300 yards to the south.
When I was a boy, the site of the mansion enclave and the proposed Gateway was just vacant shrub land between the highway and the pond. I’d park and walk down a dirt road through those fields and sticker bushes to the pond to swim and fish in the summertime. When the gated community came up on half of it, that ended that.
Since that time, the gated community brought in huge evergreens to block the noise and view of the Montauk Highway, so it is peaceful and quiet on the pond. Their patch is now theirs. And this would, I think, include the unobstructed view of the vacant other half of the old property. Well, at this point, it offends me to see this gated mansion community that cut me out of half of the property, complain about the other half of the land that never got developed. They’d gotten theirs. Now no more, please. Keep it wild.
At first, I thought they were offering to spend their own money to buy the land next door. They could chip in and afford it. But no. They want the taxpayers to foot the bill with a Community Preservation Fund purchase to save their view. There’s something funny about this. They’d cut in front of me to have the view. Now they didn’t want anybody cutting in front of them.
Yes, it’s true, the Town could do this, but it is important to pick spots where it could do some good. Here is a stretch of busy shopping traffic, stores and strip-mall parking. Better to spend taxpayer money on something in the historic downtown rather than here.
The fact is, however, that the developers of Gateway, Carol and Greg Konner, have brought to the table a really neat project. Its centerpiece is a large rectangular public green that, behind a border of trees, sits just adjacent to the highway. It is about the same size as the one at Amagansett Square, which serves as a grassy public amenity on private property next to the Montauk Highway. Here at Gateway, small barn-like buildings would create a horseshoe of shops around the Gateway green. Four larger commercial buildings of 13,000 square feet each are outside the horseshoe. And all the parking is outside the horseshoe, just like at Amagansett Square.
If this project does not go through, the land would likely be developed as a highway business, attracting businesses like Jiffy Lube and Wendy’s with no further access to the pond. In this proposal, there was full public access to the Gateway, parking, a path down to the pond, and, at the request of the town, 30 “community benefit housing” units.
The town suggested that the Konners make this a real mixed-use development by including the small affordable residential apartments on the second floors of the commercial buildings. The town also asked that Gateway build its own sewage system on the site, to protect the pond. Both the affordable apartments and the sewage system (at a cost of more than $2.4 million) are in the plans. Also in the plans is a buffer of woods between the pond and Gateway, with a walking path through it to the pond. There, some park benches could be placed so shoppers or residents could, if they wished, wander down to see the water and some of the houses of the gated community fronting the pond. Thus would the former woods I used to enjoy be completely developed, fronting the highway, one half a gated community unavailable to me or anyone but the residents, and the other half the Gateway, where anybody could go.
A representative for the gated community noted that having 30 small second-floor apartments that people could afford would mean people might be in this development day and night (just as they are). This is classic NIMBY stuff, and just adjacent to the always-noisy Montauk Highway doesn’t seem a fair objection. Nevertheless, the number of affordable housing units has been reduced from 30 to 20 on the advice of Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
A new public hearing is scheduled for May 3. Every year there are more people in town, and every year we need more shops and services to accommodate them. This is a good plan in a good location on a busy highway business location 1 mile west of the historic downtown. Entry to it is from the same traffic light that provides entry to Bridgehampton Commons.
I hope the town, which has been such an active participant in the planning of Gateway with the Konners for the last three years of its proposal phase, votes to move it forward.