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Feb 6, 2018 1:39 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Village Historic Inns Ask For Overlay District--Village Board Says No

Heather McCormack, general manager of The Baker House 1650. KYRIL BROMLEY
Feb 6, 2018 3:51 PM

The East Hampton Village Board last week declined to act on a request by the owners of five historic resorts to create a special zoning district that would have allowed them to expand and modernize their facilities.

“We’ve done everything we could in the last 10 years to keep the restaurant and hotel relevant,” Jenny Baker, owner of the Maidstone Arms Inn on Main Street, told the board at a meeting on Thursday, February 1.

Represented by attorney Leonard Ackerman, who had drafted a copy of the proposed legislation, the five inns also included the Baker House 1650, the 1770 House and the Palm at Huntting Inn, also on Main Street, as well as the Hedges Inn on James Lane.

The “limited inn overlay district” they proposed would have made the five pre-existing, nonconforming commercial uses in the Main Street Historic District conform to the residential district in which they lie. It also would have allowed them to expand and put in pools, spas or other amenities for guests.

Mr. Ackerman emphasized that the overlay district would take into account both the “quiet enjoyment” of neighboring residents and the “historical aspect” of the neighborhood.

Ben Levine, general manager of the Maidstone Arms Inn, said that potential customers who call the inn have declined to make reservations after learning that it does not have the amenities that guests are looking for.

Ms. Baker said the historic building’s business is “struggling to keep up” with changing tastes and expectations.

Heather McCormack, general manager of The Baker House 1650, spoke on behalf of that bed-and-breakfast’s owner, Antonella Bertello. “Our numbers in January are the worst we’ve had in a long time,” she said. “We work tirelessly to meet the demands of our guests. It’s extremely difficult to sustain business and, as owners, we’re doing everything we can to ensure the survival of our historic inns.”

Sylvia Muller, owner of the Hook Mill Inn, also pointed out how the rise in popularity of Airbnb has hurt local innkeepers.

Other local village business owners spoke in support of the inns. Among them was Barbara Layton, owner of Babette’s restaurant on Newtown Lane, who said designer stores on Main Street and Newtown Lane have turned the village into “the Rodeo Drive of the East End.”

“The appeal is gone,” Ms. Layton said. “The decline in appeal to the international community has become quite noticeable, and if we experience another slow summer, we may need to make some hard decisions.”

Andrea Grover, executive director of Guild Hall, which is close to the cluster of inns, read a letter written by the cultural center’s chairman of the board, Martin Cohen. “To remain competitive, we need to offer local activities and enhance the village as something more appealing,” the letter said in support of the overlay district.

The opposition that led to the proposition’s downfall came from residents living near the inns and the village’s commercial district.

Robert Osborne, a resident of Main Street, said the whole point of the village’s zoning code is to “control what happens on property” and that the board should recognize that “pre-existing, nonconforming uses within our residential zone” could bleed into residential areas of the village.

“I would think this is something that this board wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole,” Mr. Osborne said.

“If there was one thing that we started out with, it’s a residential community, not a commercial community,” said Joan Osborne, Mr. Osborne’s wife, who helped draft the village’s comprehensive plan. “The village taxes do not depend on these inns,” she said.

The board seemed to agree with the residents, with members expressing concern that possible expansions of the inns could disturb nearby homeowners.

“Some of these properties have been quietly expanding by buying adjacent properties,” said one board member, Richard Lawler. “There’s been nothing said about increased traffic, noise and parking, all of which is going to affect the immediate neighbors.”

“I don’t think that most of the neighbors of these businesses would like to see them expanded in any way or allowed to do anything they’re not already doing,” said Barbara Borsack, another board member. “We have to be concerned with our residents.”

“I’m sympathetic to the business trouble and strife that the businesses are having,” Trustee Arthur Graham chimed in. “I think the expansion of the inns is a bridge too far. Perhaps we can find ways to work together to get you some of what you want in here, but we really have to take care of the surrounding homeowners first.”

Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. read a prepared statement on the proposed overlay district that referred to it as “alarming and concerning.”

“What is missing from the equation is the quality-of-life impact that could possibly be lessened to the contiguous residential community through the unregulated expansion and intensification of use at nonconforming properties,” the mayor’s statement read.

Mr. Rickenbach’s comments during the meeting were more directly addressed to Mr. Ackerman and his clients. “Truthfully, you’re dancing against the chorus here,” Mr. Rickenbach said. “It’s a dead issue. It’s not going to go anywhere, period.”

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Land of no strikes again! It'll work out alright though, all the inns will go out of business and only the larger hotel chains will stick around. And Airbnb too.

Maybe the town can buy the old inns and drive them into the ground with mismanagement and neglect. East Hampton can follow Southampton's footsteps and use tax payer money to buy old buildings and leave them empty and useless. Or did Southampton follow East Hampton's example? Hard to tell nowadays with how much both towns don't ...more
By TrueHamptons (33), Sag Harbor on Feb 6, 18 5:00 PM
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