Those waiting for the decades-in-the-making reboot of Hampton Bays downtown will have to wait a little longer. The Town of Southampton will delay its planned referendum on creating a new road for its Hampton Bays downtown revitalization efforts, following a court ruling that struck down the town’s new zoning for the area.
The town board voted last week to delay the referendum on the road, which was designed to alleviate traffic congestion and provide alternate access to Hampton Bays’ downtown, to “allow time to review and consider all available options” surrounding the July 20 court decision that nullified zoning changes for downtown Hampton Bays.
The zoning changes, known as the Hampton Bays Downtown Overlay District, were unanimously adopted by the town board in Feb. 2020. The new zoning, which was adopted after more than 1,200 community members participated in the planning process, was aimed at creating a more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown, according to a town statement.
Connected to that planning process was the project to develop Good Ground Park, which had several starts and stops for more than two decades. Construction finally began in 2015 with the goal of creating a public gathering place that would enhance Hampton Bays downtown and serve as the cornerstone of the town’s effort to revitalize the downtown. The new zoning would allow redevelopment and clear the way for as many as 150 units of rental housing.
However, Hampton Bays resident Gayle Lombardi, who owns a home a block away from the downtown park, filed an Article 78 lawsuit in August 2020 challenging the town’s new overlay zoning. In the suit, Lombardi argued that the town’s environmental impact study for the new zoning was flawed and failed to adequately address water quality issues and that the increased residential and non-residential density that the new zoning would promote was contrary to the principles and policies of the existing town code.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli agreed with Lombardi and annulled the town’s overlay zoning in his ruling.
“This is a major setback for Hampton Bays,” Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said in the statement. “One person has set out to derail years of careful community-based land use planning. This individual was also a vocal critic of creating Good Ground Park, which has now become a popular community facility. Now she has succeeded in annulling a community-supported plan for wider sidewalks, cafes with outdoor dining, and boutique shops.”
Schneiderman said the town will make a motion with the court to re-argue the case with additional documentation and would file an appeal if necessary. He said Southampton would also re-open the environmental review process and “make sure we address the issues cited by the judge” in order to re-approve the zoning.
Members who served on the Hampton Bays downtown revitalization committee were disappointed by the court decision, but vowed to press on with their efforts.
“If you want another Walgreens and a pizza place and a nail salon, that’s what you’re going to get,” said longtime Hampton Bays resident Kevin McDonald. “We’re trying to create a mix of land uses that’s different than what people are used to seeing. It’s hard to believe it’s taking longer than 25 years, but we’re going to get passed where we’re stuck.”
Hampton Bays resident Alfred Caiola, a principal of Manhattan-based Caiola Real Estate Group, owns several properties in the Hampton Bays downtown and had proposed to embark on a redevelopment project based on the new zoning. Those plans are now also on hold.
“I think if they understood his vision and what he is trying to do, I think they would embrace it,” Schneiderman said of Caiola’s plans. “The style is like Sag Harbor, downtown Greenport, real maritime, small village downtown.”
And while Schneiderman said the town won’t give up on its efforts to create a vibrant downtown for Hampton Bays, the judge’s ruling against the rezoning threatens the initiative.
“We’re not abandoning the plan. We’ve come too far and this is what the community wanted and what they asked us for,” Schneiderman told LIBN. “We’re going to lose a year. In that year we can lose this investor. He can give up. He’s expressed frustration to me. The one year may really unravel the whole thing. There’s a lot at risk here and we’re trying to do something good.”
John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: John@LIConstructionLaw.com or (631) 608-1346.
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