A proposal for a 27,000-square-foot gym across from Bridgehampton Commons has residents worked up over the potential consequences.
Equinox Fitness, an American luxury fitness company that operates several separate fitness brands: Equinox, PURE Yoga, Blink Fitness, and SoulCycle, is looking to use 4.4 of the 13 acres owned by Carol Konner, who is looking to subdivide the parcel into three lots. Plans not yet filed will call for two 5000-square-foot restaurants on a 1.5-acre lot zoned for highway business use on an adjacent lot, and eventually an assisted living facility on 2.2 acres zoned residential, Konner has said. In fact, conceptual site-plan sketches created by Araiys Design in Southampton show seven buildings in addition to the two connected gym structures that would take up an additional 50,695 square feet of space. There would be 432 parking spaces on the parcel on the south side of Montauk Highway east of the Carvel ice cream store.
But for the gym to operate out of its two proposed structures — one 13,000 square feet connected by a breezeway to another 14,000 square feet — Konner needed to apply for a variance to nearly double the 15,000-square-foot limit. The zoning board of appeals voted in March to declare the planning board the “lead agency” for the gym project’s state environmental quality review. In April, the planners voted to classify the proposal and its associated subdivision a “Type 1” action, which means it requires an environmental impact statement because it could have “significant adverse impact.”
Members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee quickly lined up to comment.
“I do not object to a property owner’s development of his or her property by right, but I’m seriously concerned about the likely impact of greatly increased traffic on Montauk Highway inconsistent with the character and sustainability of our hamlet,” John Kriendler said. “I oppose this variance request.”
The year-round resident said it took him 45 minutes to drive the 6.4 miles from his home to Town Hall to attend a 6 PM public hearing on the matter on Thursday, July 25.
“And that’s without any additional traffic from the agreed enlargement of T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s, and that’s without the cars that will result, in all likelihood, from the 432 parking spaces for the Equinox development,” he said.
In October of last year, the planning board voted 6-0 with one abstention that Marshall’s 17,000-square-foot plan to join with T.J. Maxx would not need an extensive environmental review.
Kriendler and other CAC members at the meeting, like Peter Feder, took issue with creating even more congestion and chaos at the light into Bridgehampton Commons, where residents already have a tough time entering and exiting when the light turns green during peak hours. They said having cars also turning onto Montauk Highway from across the street would only compound the problem.
With SoulCycle’s classes on Butter Lane maxing out at 80 people a class, and typically sold out according to Feder’s family members that attend, for every hour that passes from opening to close, that’s 80 cars entering and exiting the highway. With the average length of an SUV being 17 feet, that equates to roughly 3/4 of a mile for all 80 cars, or from Citarella to Carvel.
“I think this proposal is not what was intended for highway business,” Feder said. “It’s too big. It’s too large. It’s going to have a negative impact on the environment, on Kellis Pond, and our quality of life. I think it should be rejected.”
Pamela Harwood, chair of the CAC, questioned how many toilets, sinks, showers, washing machines, and dryers the gym was going to have.
“Everyone talks about how we have wonderful nitrogen-moving systems, and certainly such a complex like this would have those, but these nitrogen-removing systems do not remove bleach. They do not remove detergent. They do not remove very strong chemical cleaning products,” Harwood said. “What are we going to do about that?”
“Each year the amount of impaired water bodies increases,” added Larry Penny, East Hampton’s former natural resources director. “Kellis Pond already is one.”
Concerned with energy use, Harwood also questioned how many treadmills, bikes, and lights would be used daily by the gym.
All of the nearly dozen residents who attended the work session or wrote a letter had the same issues: traffic, environmental impact, and degradation of character.
Shira Kalish, a former CAC chair, said she was involved in the planned development district and superstore law that limits the maximum building size to 15,000 square feet. She asked that the board not back down from that policy change.
“This is simply greed at the expense of the community,” she said. “You’re creating a real fervor getting to these timed classes, and we also have emergency vehicles coming through every hour.”
CAC member Peter Wilson didn’t see the design being in line with the community, pointing to its proximity to the highway leaving little room for foliage or a buffer, a 120-foot-long façade, and metal building finishes.
“Appropriate scale and rural contextual character should be primary objectives for this development, not big-box architecture and large parking lots typical of suburban communities,” he said. “It is not clear to me how the Equinox program and design meets that requirement at all.”
While those representing Konner have said the gym will not harm small businesses, everyone at the meeting thought differently, knowing Equinox fitness centers have juice bars, snack shops, and retail shops that sell clothing and fitness equipment.
“These large business entities create economic kill zones within the surrounding economic community,” CAC member Julie Bermeister said. “I use a number of fitness centers for my health, and I would hate to see them impacted.”
President of Group for the East End Bob DeLuca says the board’s job is, under SEQRA law, to “rationally balance the environmental, economic, and social interests of the community in rendering a determination.”
CAC member Carey Millard thought the proposal goes against what makes the East End different from other communities.
“We live in an area of incredible natural beauty, which we keep fouling up with development,” she said to the board. “I urge you to keep in mind open space. We really don’t need any more gyms. What we need are areas for wildlife and for humans who wish to still enjoy the natural beauty of the East End.”
Residents have until Friday, August 2, to let their comments be known. Chairperson Jacqui Lofaro asked community members be as specific as possible so the detailed issues can be considered before the final version is presented and adopted August 8.