Remaking Downtowns: A Look Ahead
Decisions made now about the look and function of the business areas of East Hampton Town could gradually shape the hamlet centers and how residents shop, work, and live here in the future, consultants said during five recent presentations.
A team of consultants studied the town’s economy and business makeup and then homed in on the downtown and dock areas of Montauk; the center of Amagansett and the businesses at the hamlet’s eastern edge; neighborhood businesses, waterfront, and commercial-industrial areas in Springs; North Main Street and Pantigo Road in East Hampton, and Wainscott.
Each hamlet plan was intended to dovetail with the recommendations in the town’s comprehensive plan as well as with adopted plans and policies covering wastewater management, housing, water quality, coastal management, energy, and the like.
After a series of public discussions, site tours, and workshops at which possibilities were described and recommendations outlined, the draft plans were not “a specific blueprint, but an overall guide depicting how changes can be managed to complement rather than detract from our rural and small-town character,” Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town’s planning director, said in an information sheet.
Once the community reaches agreement on long-term goals, strategies could be employed to gradually work toward them, Lisa Liquori of Fine Arts and Sciences, a former town planning director, said at one of the recent presentations.
Peter Flinker of Dodson and Flinker, a Massachusetts engineering firm, another consultant, said the plans would help residents “determine how best we might change the rules to get what we want — how can you put better regulations in place to guide it to where you want it to be.”
Over all, Ms. Liquori said, the goals for all of the business areas are to “maintain, improve, and enhance” their unique characters, including their visual quality, and create integrated and walkable centers while safeguarding the environment.
The recommendations are designed to improve traffic flow and pedestrian and bicyclist safety, access to parking, and to encourage affordable housing among a variety of other uses.
While the goals align with those of the town comprehensive plan, the hamlet center plans will provide “a little more fine detail,” she said. Zoning would largely remain unchanged, but the plans will focus on how to integrate “business development into the existing hamlet centers,” Ms. Liquori said. Strategies could include establishing so-called overlay districts, where particular design guidelines would govern “key areas of concern,” she said, including architecture, landscapes, streetscapes, parking areas, and environmental standards.
Town regulations could create seasonal workforce housing districts that would allow motels to modify units to make them “livable and safe”; modify parking requirements for businesses to encourage shared parking areas, and possibly create new municipal lots. The town could offer incentives or establish programs, such as the transfer of development rights, to spur the relocation of businesses or other goals. The town would have to work with property owners, and ask them to coordinate with one another, to move toward desired outcomes.
Detailed first-draft plans for each hamlet center are posted on the town’s website, ehamptonny.gov/367/ Hamlet-Study-2016. They will be revised based on public opinion expressed in the recent meetings, and then resubmitted to the town board, which will hold hearings at which the public will once again have opportunities to comment before the plans are finalized. The finished products would be formally adopted by the board and become part of the comprehensive plan.
All of the concentrated development proposed for the hamlet centers is predicated on effective centralized wastewater treatment systems, the consultants said. Such systems are already under discussion as a result of the town’s wastewater treatment plan.
The presentations were all taped by LTV and can be viewed online at ltveh.org. Comments may be submitted to the consultants by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The town’s “biggest single development opportunity is located” at the former sand pit site in Wainscott, which, Mr. Flinker said, “could reshape and expand the town center.” The plan suggests encouraging some businesses to move from the Montauk Highway to land north, in the former pit, where a “home improvement services district” could be created by concentrating related businesses. The acreage could also accommodate continued commercial-industrial use and open space, and, possibly, with Long Island Rail Road cooperation, a train station.
The draft plan for Wainscott also sets a goal of connecting the stores and commercial areas along the highway with shared parking and walkways to create a “pedestrian district” that has a downtown feel, Mr. Flinker said. The area is “uniquely positioned to meet the year-round needs of East Hampton residents,” he said.
At the Wainscott presentation on May 27, Kathy Cunningham, an East Hampton resident and member of the town planning board, urged fellow citizens to seize the moment and take action to shape the future East Hampton Town.
“This is an opportunity for our community,” she said. “The implementation of this, of course, is the big challenge. It’s time for us to come together and get this thing done.”
The challenges in downtown Montauk are framed by sea level rise. The consultants suggested a phased plan, moving some buildings and businesses out of the flood plain and concentrating them on higher ground around the village green and up Essex Street.
Shorefront motels could be relocated to other downtown streets where there is room for more development, the plan suggests. “Reclaim the first row as a reconstructed dune system — and that protects the whole downtown,” Mr. Flinker said. “Infill” development, he said, creates an “opportunity for continued economic success for those businesses, “and also, he says, a more attractive, usable downtown.
At the Montauk dock area, maintaining a “working waterfront” is “vitally important, economically and culturally,” Mr. Flinker said. The plan includes a
“mixed-use fishing village” along the waterfront with a continuous walking path, and a commons area at the entrance to the harbor area. The northern loop of Flamingo Road could be closed off, according to the plan, creating a natural waterfront area that would not only be scenic but could protect against storm surges. Plantings would be added to the Gosman’s parking lot.
At the Montauk train station, there could be a small hamlet center, as a result of the redesign of parking and the creation of taxi queuing areas to create “an attractive transportation hub,” Ray DeBiase, the transportation specialist on the consulting team suggested.
In Amagansett, the consultants said, there is the potential for more commercial development. Suggestions included reconfiguring the intersection at Montauk Highway, Abram’s Landing Road, and Old Stone Highway at the railroad crossing, creating room for more parking at the train station, and creating a greenbelt along the highway near the I.G.A. supermarket and another area where additional shops might be located.
In Springs, the consultants looked at areas zoned for “neighborhood business” at the eastern and western ends of Fort Pond Boulevard and suggested encouraging landscaping along the street, sidewalks, fewer separate entrances and exits, and parking behind the buildings. “Connectivity,” by developing pedestrian and bike paths, and the area’s trails system, is a key theme. There is an opportunity, Mr. Flinker said, to create a “recreational crossroads” at the head of Three Mile Harbor, “to expand the town dock area to really turn that into a park where people could come enjoy the waterfront,” and to connect the area to adjoining and nearby marinas and other waterfront areas.
In East Hampton, businesses along Pantigo Road could be connected not only with each other but with nearby Town Hall and the proposed Southampton Hospital satellite emergency room by a back road, avoiding the need to go out onto Montauk Highway to access the various sites, the draft plan suggests.
Another sand pit, along Springs-Fireplace Road, could see extensive development under existing zoning, the consultants noted. With a bakery already operating in a commercial area there, the site could be envisioned as a food business incubator, after mining operations have ceased. Parkland and housing could be accommodated as well.