Raze Or Rebuild Bel-Aire Cove?

Southampton Town is considering buying the Bel-Aire Cove Motel at 20 Shinnecock Road in Hampton Bays with a plan for the site to be redeveloped. Independent/Desirée Keegan

A debate over competing solutions for the Bel-Aire Cove Motel in Hampton Bays has ended with the Southampton Town Board agreeing to hold a public hearing next month to weigh the property’s fate.

After several public comments and an hourlong debate between board members, a unanimous vote was cast in favor of Councilwoman Christina Preston Scalera’s resolution to hold a January 8 hearing to determine whether the Shinnecock Road property should be purchased with money from the Community Preservation Fund.

“I feel that this parcel is appropriate for CPF purchase irrespective of the issues that we’re talking about relative to its use as a hotel,” Preston Scalera said at the board’s December 11 meeting. “Ideally, I would have loved to see it flourish as a hotel, or have confidence that it will do so in the future, notwithstanding this speculative nature of using other people’s money to fund hopes. I think it’s problematic that we have a fundamental lack of confidence that this board will enforce its codes. And I think it is well-founded, which is even more troubling to me.”

The Bel-Aire Cove Motel has been the source of many complaints and was cited with code violations for overcrowding, bedbugs, and missing smoke detectors during an October 2017 raid. In an attempt to clean up the property, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman proposed what board members are touting as an “out-of-the-box” plan in August to purchase the property for $1.06 million and prepare it for development as luxury town houses or a 22-room boutique hotel.

“I’ve been working for three years on this property trying to come up with a community-based solution that would get it to be a positive part of the local economy in Hampton Bays — to clean up the issues around the septic system, to have it be something that would pay a higher tax to the school district than it’s currently paying, and to have it be a hotel once again,” Schneiderman said. “We talked about revitalizing the Hampton Bays community and stimulating the economy. I feel I haven’t made my case strong enough, so this will buy me some time. I’ve got work to do.”

Board members on both sides raised concerns that the property might remain a problem for the Southampton board into the future. Preston Scalera said she was afraid the town might find itself back in the same situation if the motel is rebuilt, and Hampton Bays resident Ray D’Angelo echoed her fear, urging the town purchase the property through the CPF, raze it, and preserve it. He was joined by other community members who wished to see the same thing.

“My two main concerns are the residents that live there now get safely relocated, which I hope the town would help do, and that this place will be done with,” D’Angelo said. “We would really like to see this thing put to bed — have a stake go through its heart and not see it come back to life.”

Councilman John Bouvier had a converse concern.

“We’ve acquired a lot of CPF properties that have languished,” he said. “It’s in the heart of Hampton Bays; it’s on the water. If you acquire it with CPF funds and you leave it, then there’s a burden on the town to maintain the property because people see it all the time driving through. It has to be protected. And it could become another blight.”

Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni joined his three board members who were opposed to the use of CPF money to buy the property, citing concerns it would set a precedent. Preston Scalera countered that she was just as worried about the town getting into the real estate business.

“This property has been a part of Hampton Bays for 60 years,” Schiavoni said. “I am mindful of the tax base in Hampton Bays. Economic development has been one of this board’s goals. Good Ground Park was built; Edward J. Warner Sr. Old Ponquogue Bridge Marine Park and fishing pier, Ponquogue Pavilion, Hot Dog Beach, the Tiana Life-Saving Station, to name a few, are some of the development projects we have, and it would be nice to have people come to Hampton Bays as a summer resort to visit those amenities and go to the restaurants in town and contribute to the economy.”

While Schneiderman, Bouvier, Schiavoni, and Councilwoman Julie Lofstad all said they were ready to vote “yes” on the resolution to purchase the property, and felt they had been “maneuvered” to vote in favor of the public hearing, ultimately, they said they would not go against letting the public speak at a formal hearing.

“I’m always willing to listen,” Lofstad said. “And especially if time is not of the essence.”

Because her fellow board members have already seemed to have made up their minds on the matter, Preston Scalera pleaded with them to do their due diligence in weighing public positions from next month’s hearing.

“Go into the public hearing with an open mind,” Preston Scalera said. “I think the public deserves that.”

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