EH Hamlet Studies: To Be, Or Not To Be

T. E. McMorrow
The triangle where North Main Street forks into Springs-Fireplace and Three Mile Harbor Roads could be in for a future redesign, according to East Hampton Town Board members.

Four of the five hamlet studies being worked on by an outside consulting firm under the direction of the East Hampton Town Board were discussed at length at a work session April 16 at Town Hall. The studies are to conclude with an overarching vision for the business districts in Wainscott, East Hampton (which includes the Northwest Woods area), Springs, Amagansett, and Montauk.

Lisa Liquori, a former head of the East Hampton Town Planning Department who now is a consultant with the firm Dodson & Flinker, has been shepherding the process along over the past three years.

The one hamlet study not discussed at that meeting, that for Montauk, seems mired in indecision, worthy of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Suggestions for a long-term vision for the future of Montauk, particularly for the downtown area, offered by Liquori, as well as by others, have been sunk by a chorus of doubters from the hamlet, who are particularly concerned with any suggestion of retreat from the ocean. There are also some Montaukers in favor of the hamlet study.

On February 21, Liquori prepared for the board a 69-page summary of all public comments that had been presented on the five hamlet studies. More than half the pages were dedicated to Montauk. And the Montauk comments have continued to flow.

On the other hand, the study for Wainscott appears to be the furthest along in the process. The final report will be added to East Hampton Town’s long-term comprehensive plan.

The impact of recent events needs to be added to the study about Wainscott, Liquori told the board, particularly the discovery of contaminants in well water on properties near the East Hampton Airport. Reading from a suggested addition to the study, Liquori said that the town had partnered “with the Suffolk County Water Authority to obtain approximately $10 million in New York State grant funding to install over 8.5 miles of water mains to the effected property owners.”

Michael Sendlenski, attorney to the town board, suggested broadening Liquori’s language about the actual source of the contaminants. Liquori had focused on firefighting foam, but Sendlenski warned that there could be “a whole host of sources.”

Wainscott Zoning Language

Liquori told the board that, based on its previous comments, she was prepared to remove language from the Wainscott study that would suggest the possibility of changing the zoning, at some future date, of the properties along the highway west of the Home Goods store from a central business district to a limited business district zone.

That was exactly what two business owners in Wainscott, Phillip Young and Nina Bataller, apparently wanted to hear. They both spoke earlier during the public portion of the April meeting in opposition to any suggestion of a zoning change. Bataller told the board that she owns, on the north side of the highway, both the framing shop, which looks like a private residence from the road, as well the big barn that is commercially used.

“It sounds great on paper,” Bataller said about the proposed zoning change, “but it could cost me $1 million.”

“Wainscott has the highest traffic counts of any hamlet,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said. Another large store could be built under the current zoning for the area in question. “You’re going to have a lot of traffic stop right there,” she warned.

Kathee Burke Gonzalez had previously, along with fellow board member David Lys, and Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, favored removing the zoning language from the Wainscott hamlet study. However, she said, after hearing from the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, to which she was liaison for the board for four years, she now favors keeping the language in concerning the possible zoning change, as did the supervisor, leaving Lys the odd man out.

Lys argued that perhaps there was a type of zoning middle ground for the six or seven western Wainscott properties in question. Van Scoyoc responded that, before any zoning change could be made it would have to be vetted by the town board and be the subject of a public hearing. The board voted 4-1 to keep the zoning language in the study.

The Amagansett study is similarly further along, and is now being finetuned. The board did discuss zoning for a handful of properties sitting just outside the Amagansett Historic District. With Lys recusing himself from the conversation, the board ended up deadlocked at 2-2 over an expansion of the historic district zone, so, as of now, the language will not appear in the study. Liquori agreed to make a survey of all the historic structures in the business district of Amagansett.

Road Changes Discussed

The bulk of the board’s discussion April 16 was the Springs and East Hampton hamlet studies. Those two are linked, since North Main Street in East Hampton is, essentially, the gateway to Springs.

The Springs hamlet study area is being greatly expanded, at the suggestion of the town board, something the Springs CAC is in favor of. It will include Accabonac, Springs-Fireplace, and Three Mile Harbor roads, and go much further north into Springs. The study will also be expanded to allow collaboration with the county on future planning for the roads.

One suggestion that will not be in the final study is making Collins Avenue a one-way street. According to Lys, the East Hampton Village Preservation Society is against the measure.

The two largest intersections on North Main Street received a good deal of scrutiny from the board. Overby said that Cedar Street, at the point where it ends at North Main Street, is simply too wide, and pedestrians cannot cross it in the allotted time at the traffic light. Van Scoyoc said a pedestrian island was possible, as well as a major rethink on the intersection itself.

The board talked at length about the point where North Main Street forks into Three Mile Harbor and Springs-Fireplace roads. Board members agreed that it is a dangerous intersection that backs up traffic, particularly at the point where those headed south on Springs-Fireplace Road have to stop to turn left onto North Main Street.

Van Scoyoc described the intersection as the byproduct of two early cart trails. “That is a really difficult intersection. One of those historic cart paths, where the carts didn’t make right angle turns, and the paths just kind of branched off,” the supervisor said, adding that at one point previously “there was some discussion about having the road come in at a right angle at the wide end of the triangle.”

Councilman Lys said that the triangular area between the roads was folded into a nature preserve in 1991, and that using that little bit of land to solve the traffic problems at the intersection might be of great benefit to the public.

A roundabout at the intersection could also be explored.

Board members are taking a wait-and-see approach, in terms of traffic on North Main Street, flowing north into Springs, in light of the Long Island Rail Road’s ongoing project that will raise the trestles on both North Main Street and Accabonac Road. Now under 10 feet above the road, the trestles will soon be raised to over 13 feet of clearance. The work is being done to end the annual barrage of tall trucks striking the trestles, particularly during the summer season. How will those changes affect traffic flow? That is the question, according to the East Hampton Town Board.

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