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May 19, 2008 3:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Benson Gallery is one step closer to the wrecking ball

May 19, 2008 3:01 PM

Two years after builder Joseph Farrell bought the former Elaine Benson gallery on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton, he received permission from the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on May 15 to build a 6,600-square-foot office building at the site.

Mr. Farrell plans to raze the Victorian-style house that Ms. Benson used as gallery space until her death in 1998. But he will need to receive site plan approval from the town’s Planning Board before he can begin work.

Though Mr. Farrell was required by the town code to provide three affordable apartments in the building in order to receive the variance from the ZBA, he needed to obtain permission from the Suffolk County Health Department to increase the sewage flow created by those new apartments. The county did not allow Mr. Farrell to do that, so he can now provide only one 600-square-foot apartment in the building.

Members of the Planning Board, who saw the project on referral from the ZBA on May 15, said that they found the County Health Department’s position on affordable housing has often been at odds with the town’s since the municipality began to encourage more affordable housing several years ago.

“There is a desperate need for affordable housing in Bridgehampton,” said Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty.

The Planning Board’s attorney, Kathleen Murray, said that she will recommend that the board designate the project an “unlisted action,” which may or may not require extensive state-mandated environmental review.

The board also discussed the building’s proposed red brick facade and slate roof, and not favorably.

“We’re paying a great deal of attention to what buildings in Bridgehampton look like,” said Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro. “I live there. That isn’t the character.”

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