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Jul 15, 2009 1:41 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Board renews Hampton Bays moratorium

Jul 15, 2009 1:41 PM

As expected, after a lengthy public hearing Friday, the Southampton Town Board voted to renew the Hampton Bays moratorium, which expired June 30, extending it through the end of this year in order to give town planners more time to complete the environmental impact study on the hamlet.

The board voted 4-0 in favor of the measure, with Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski absent.

According to Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and Chief Building Inspector Mike Benincasa, no building applications were far enough along in the process to be approved during the two-week lapse and any applications submitted during that period will be subject to whatever new guidelines are established as a result of the environmental impact study, essentially rendering the two-week gap in the moratorium inconsequential.

Although the handful of Hampton Bays residents who spoke during the public hearing enthusiastically approved the board’s action, one developer, whose project, Tiana Commons, has been held up by the moratorium, offered a different point of view.

Robert Morrow, who owns 19.5 acres west of the Stop & Shop supermarket, is proposing a 72-unit condominium complex with 20 additional rental units over various retail shops with public and private recreational uses, including a post office. Twenty-seven of the units are expected to be designated for affordable housing. Mr. Morrow said he has $7 million tied up in his project and argued that in today’s recession the community needs jobs and a boost to the tax base, not the further suspension of property rights and sound economic development.

“This is the worst time for a moratorium,” Mr. Morrow said. “We’re in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and all this does is delay jobs.”

Mr. Morrow defended his development and said it would result in a positive impact on the community and added he spent $40,000 to create an aerial simulation of what he envisions for Tiana Commons. “My project would improve the tax base,” Mr. Morrow said, adding that his development would also improve the surrounding neighborhood.

If developed, there would be a cross access road constructed to connect Montauk Highway to Bellows Pond Road to the west. Mr. Morrow said he has also purchased the junk yard adjacent to the property on which he plans to build a playground.

But former Hampton Bays Civic Association president Bob McAlevy, echoing the concerns of many in the community, argued that the hamlet is being saturated with development and does not need the added density of Tiana Commons.

Mr. Morrow said he wanted the opportunity to present his development plans to the community. “I’m not asking for you to approve my project,” he said. “I just want the chance to present my case.” The Town Board agreed that Mr. Morrow should have that opportunity, despite objections from Mary Jean Green, president of the Hampton Bays Civic Association.

The Town Board also agreed to fast track the completion of the study, committing to meet with the ad hoc advisory committee twice a month as opposed to once a month, which has been the case up until now. That committee includes Town Planning and Development Administrator Jefferson Murphree, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty and various community leaders.

There is one amendment to the renewed moratorium aimed at speeding up the process and addressing the needs of economic growth. Those seeking exemptions where there is no change of use, such as a new tenant coming into an existing structure, in which site plan approval has already been granted, will not be required to gain site plan approval again. “If it’s just a matter of new signage and tenants want to go in, then they won’t have to go through all that red tape,” Ms. Kabot said.

For example, there is office space available in the western sector of the hamlet on Montauk Highway next to Villa Toscano restaurant. Ms. Kabot said if someone wanted to occupy that space they would not have to jump through hoops to seek an exemption from the moratorium, which includes a $500 fee.

The reason for the two-week lapse in the moratorium, Ms. Kabot said, is that there was some confusion about its start date. The moratorium was put in place in June 2008. Two months later, its scope was broadened after hamlet residents complained it covered too narrow an area. Even before the moratorium was enacted, residents had petitioned town officials for a more comprehensive building ban, arguing that the proposed borders failed to capture much of the over-developement that, they said, was negatively impacting the community.

“The adoption date in June triggered the 12-month moratorium,” Ms. Kabot said, adding that officials in the Department of Land Management—which was overseeing the moratorium—erroneously assumed that the 12-month period began in August when the moratorium was amended. “The two weeks is a non-issue, but staffers should have paid a little more attention,” the supervisor said. “When we expanded the boundaries, we did not expand the time frame.”

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The moratorium should prevent building until it is lifted. Allowing Mr. Morrow to proceed with a condominium complex during this time makes a joke out of the moratorium. As far as the GEIS meetings that are being held, part of the time the "officials" on the committee don't show up; Meetings are cancelled and changed at the drop of a hat. Saying they will increase them to twice a month is a joke, they hardly have a meeting a month as it is now.

As usual, lip service is being paid ...more
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 13, 09 9:28 PM
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jul 14, 09 7:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
the article should read jones road in the west to peconic road in the east
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Jul 14, 09 9:02 PM
This is Hampton Bays...of course there will be exceptions!!
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 23, 09 8:38 AM