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Apr 18, 2012 9:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Planning Board Encourages Town To Apply Exhaustive Review To Tuckahoe King Kullen Proposal

Apr 18, 2012 10:55 AM

The Southampton Town Planning Board decided this week that it would not weigh in on the merits of a proposal for a large supermarket on County Road 39 in Tuckahoe while the Town Board considers whether to grant developers a change of zone to allow the store—but would implore Town Board members to conduct the most detailed review of the project possible.

Board members said they didn’t see any way that the town could grant developer Robert Morrow’s change of zone request to allow a shopping center along the busy highway, dubbed Tuckahoe Center, without conducting the exhaustive review guidelines of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

“We’re telling the Town Board not to shoot from the hip,” Chairman Dennis Finnerty said. “Make the decision based on planning data. We’re going to remain silent as to the merits at this time and encourage the Town Board to move forward with a thorough SEQRA analysis.”

Board members did discuss concerns that the zone change proposal would open the town up to accusations of spot zoning, were it to grant the change of zone to allow the 30,000-square-foot supermarket and 15,000 square feet of smaller retail shops, as well as whether the current zoning along County Road 39 should be abandoned or deviated from in various instances.

“I would hate to think the town is embracing the highway business zone,” Mr. Finnerty said of the zoning designation along the whole of County Road 39, which allows for larger, low-traffic businesses like appliance and furniture stores and car dealerships. “It’s really a relic. It’s Long Island strip mall zoning at its worst.”

Mr. Finnerty noted that the use of planned development districts—legislative exceptions from area zoning to allow a specific project deemed important to the community—have allowed for some slight changes in the direction of development in highway zones.

But the town’s acting planning and development administrator, Freda Eisenberg, said that planners and the members of a committee that conducted a two-year study of the County Road 39 corridor sought to preserve the highway zoning because of the valuable business alternatives it gave the region. “The interest of the study is to maintain the value of the HB zone so you can have uses that are not appropriate in the hamlet centers, and you don’t have the high-volume retail uses that you would prefer to have in the downtowns,” she said. “It maintains that line.”

She did note that the study also identified certain parcels along the highway corridor, like the large Southampton Elks Lodge property, that could be better utilized with the benefit of a PDD should they ever be redeveloped. The Elks property is complicated by the fact that it encompasses two different zoning designations, highway business at its southern end and residential at the northern.

Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro said she worried that granting the change of zone to allow the supermarket project would open the town to charges of illegal spot-zoning. “The town should look at the legislative intent for the zoning, or they will be exposed to a spot zoning issue,” she said. “It’s challengeable.”

The supermarket proposal on 7 acres on the southern side of the highway, just east of Magee Street, was originally proposed as a PDD, calling for the King Kullen market to be flanked by more than 100,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and apartments. Residents objected, and the application spurred the town to overhaul its PDD process. The application was ultimately withdrawn and resubmitted in a steeply downsized scope as a request for a change of zone. Mr. Morrow has said the plans, which would put a 100-foot grass and tree buffer between the roadway and the stores, are a better direction for the development of a stretch of County Road 39 blighted by crumbling, vacant buildings whose owners have for years been unable to find new businesses to rehabilitate them. Opponents of the project have said it will cause traffic congestion on a critical artery and on residential back roads.

“It would change the way CR 39 develops,” board member John Blaney said. “There will be practical aspects—people will be thrilled they only have to drive a mile to the supermarket instead of seven.”

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