Amagansett Likes It Just as It Is
“Please,” said Joan Tulp of Amagansett, “you do not have to make us the ideal hamlet, because we already are the ideal hamlet.”
Ms. Tulp, a member of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee and the hamlet’s unofficial mayor, addressed the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday during the public hearing on Amagansett’s hamlet study. She spoke for many residents when she asked that the document, to be incorporated into the town’s comprehensive plan if adopted, be light on sweeping transformation. “Please don’t make too many changes to Amagansett,” she said. “Most of us live there and came there because it is what it is. I would like to see it remain as much the same as possible.”
To date, public hearings on the hamlet studies, conducted by the consultants Peter Flinker of Dodson and Flinker, a Massachusetts consulting firm, and Lisa Liquori of Fine Arts and Sciences, a former town planning director, have drawn mixed reviews. The hearing on the Wainscott hamlet study, held on Oct. 4, was mostly positive, its residents seeing opportunities to alleviate traffic congestion and the critical shortage of affordable housing, connect parking lots and pedestrian and bicycle pathways, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to Georgica Pond, and reduce the strip-mall look and feel of its commercial core in favor of walkable, connected outdoor public spaces.
By contrast, the East Hampton study was criticized at its Oct. 18 hearing, largely by residents of Springs, who predicted further stress on the already crowded corridors connecting East Hampton with their hamlet, chiefly Springs-Fireplace Road.
The consulting team prepared master plans meant to preserve the existing character of the Amagansett Main Street commercial district while improving an eastern business district. The Amagansett residents who spoke last week were not uniform in their responses, but, apart from a nonresident’s suggestion as to how summer traffic congestion might be reduced, Ms. Tulp’s remarks conveyed the shared sense that with respect to changes in the hamlet, less is more.
Jim MacMillan, chairman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, summarized that group’s two years of discussions about the hamlet study. “In general, most of the members really, really like Amagansett just the way it is,” he said. “We sort of enjoy being the ‘un-Hamptons’ hamlet left, out of all of them.”
With that said, the group did want to make its collective opinion known to the board. The committee shares the goal of “keeping as much open green space as possible,” and supports a realignment of the intersection of Montauk Highway, Old Stone Highway, and Abram’s Landing Road, near the Long Island Rail Road Station and the Long Island Power Authority substation.
Mr. MacMillan said the advisory committee was pleased with the town’s purchase of the 555 Montauk Highway property, but felt it “should be preserved as open space and passive recreation, and never be developed or the uses increased.” The town board had drawn many Amagansett residents’ ire earlier this year when it announced that the East Hampton Library’s annual Authors Night fund-raiser would be held there.
The committee issued a thumbs-down assessment of a recommendation for development of an eastern business district, where the post office and I.G.A. supermarket are situated. Across the country, Mr. MacMillan said, “brick-and-mortar stores remain empty due to online shopping. To add to that is sort of redundant.” The committee “absolutely does not want new mixed-use structures along the street frontage of the I.G.A. area,” he added, citing traffic congestion.
Complications due to the Suffolk County Health Department’s septic requirements and ongoing parking congestion “lead us not to recommend
pursuing additional second-story apartments above retail stores on Main Street,” Mr. MacMillan said. Such development might also result in buildings not in character with those of the historic district, he said.
Nor does the committee recommend that five lots bordering the municipal parking lot north of Main Street, currently zoned commercial business and containing residential houses or cottages, be included in the hamlet’s historic district. “There are not any known historical features contained in any of them,” he said.
A plan to construct affordable housing at 531 Montauk Highway will help address the lack of work force housing, he said, noting that the hamlet is already the site of a senior citizens’ housing complex at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. “However, we still recommend a more thorough traffic study if possible,” as well as a long-term analysis of any new housing’s impact on traffic.
Tina Piette, a member of the advisory committee who owns both property and a business in Amagansett, said that she agreed with many of the committee’s recommendations, though not with its rejection of affordable apartments over commercial buildings. “I would recommend the board, or future boards or members, look at allowing these projects to continue, which would include a study of how or where a centrally located septic system might be,” she said. “We’re way under the number of apartments that have been recommended, over and over, for people to live and work throughout the community.”
Krae Van Sickle, who lives in Springs, suggested that the Amagansett Fire Department, which has solar panels atop the firehouse and a windmill on the grounds, serve as a demonstration project to show how intermittent, renewable energy can be tapped at all times “by having batteries that store that energy for use when the renewable energy isn’t available, instead of having that facility have to run on fossil fuel that’s brought in on power lines.”
Citing last month’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserting that the window in which to avoid cataclysmic climate change is rapidly closing, Mr. Van Sickle said that “we need to take control and proactively engage with” LIPA to preclude additional fossil fuel-derived energy on the South Fork. “Be really forward in saying, ‘This is what we need in this community,’ ” he advised the board.
An equally audacious suggestion came from another nonresident of Amagansett. “Nobody has said anything about the traffic in Amagansett,” Averill Geus told the board. “Boy, is it bad in Amagansett. Trying to get through the Main Street of Amagansett in the summer is one of the worst things anyone could imagine.”
To alleviate the congestion, Ms. Geus, who is the East Hampton Town historian, said that Bluff Road and Town Lane, south and north of Main Street respectively, should be designated one-way streets. She did not “want to start World War III,” she said, but “if you have Bluff Road going to Montauk and you have Town Lane going back west, what’s wrong with that?”
The hearing was closed. Finding a consensus on any further changes and a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act will follow, Ms. Liquori told the board, and the plan will be sent to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for review before adoption.
The hamlet study focusing on Springs will be held at the board’s meeting next Thursday. A hearing on Montauk’s hamlet study is scheduled for the board’s Dec. 6 meeting. Both will happen at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room at Town Hall.