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Sep 1, 2010 1:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Rechlers say they are running out of patience

Sep 1, 2010 1:01 PM

Developers Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, who own the Canoe Place Inn and a swath of land directly across the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, said this week that they are running out of patience and want to move forward with their plans—even if it means demolishing the historic inn and building timeshares there instead.

“We want to move forward with our application,” said Gregg Rechler, a partner with R Squared LLC in Melville, referring to an application that was first filed in 2006. “If we decide to demolish the site, we want to move forward.”

Mr. Rechler was referring to their original plans, which called for leveling the Canoe Place Inn, a structure that many in Hampton Bays had hoped to save even though it is not a historic landmark, and building 75 timeshares—a project that, they say, will not require a change of zone. But town officials point out that current zoning allows only for the construction of up to 28 timeshares, slightly more than a third of what the Rechlers had hoped to build.

That original application was put on hold after the town approved a building moratorium in 2008, one that was extended multiple times, and temporarily blocked the project before expiring this past March. In response, the Rechlers sued the town in September 2009, alleging that its building ban was illegal and interfered with their rights to develop the land. That litigation is still pending, and the partners have not yet decided what kind of damages they could eventually seek.

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she approached the Rechlers, who own homes locally, six or seven months ago, asking them to consider alternate development options if they would preserve the exterior of the Canoe Place Inn. She said the Rechlers were the ones who came up with the idea of saving the inn and transforming it into a catering facility, if the town agreed to rezone land that they own on the east side of the canal, allowing them to build approximately 40 condominiums on 4.5 acres. That plan, which has received mixed reviews from Hampton Bays residents, would require the razing of two restaurants—Tide Runners and 1 North Steakhouse—that are also owned by the Rechlers. The developers purchased both the inn and restaurant properties in 2004, according to Mr. Rechler.

“The only thing that has happened in Hampton Bays has been moratoriums,” said Gregg Rechler, who lives in Water Mill, during an interview this week. On the advice of counsel, he said he could not comment on the ongoing litigation with the town.

“We’re into this property for almost $10 million now,” he said. “Name any study, and we’ve done it. The documentation is 14 inches thick.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said this week that she stepped in because many Hampton Bays residents hope to save the 88-year-old structure. She explained that the Rechlers, who are the developers behind the Hampton Business and Technology Park that’s supposed to be built at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton next year, are only considering alternative plans at her urging, adding that they can make an application to demolish the inn building at any time.

“The Rechlers made it clear that preserving the CPI is not their goal,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.

The main catch with the condominium plan is that the town would have to grant the Rechlers a special zoning change, known as a planned development district, or PDD, to allow for extra density. Some hamlet residents, including former Hampton Bays Civic Association President Mary Jean Green, who stepped down last month, have publicly opposed that deal, arguing that it is too dense of a project.

“It’s a big deal to the residents in Hampton Bays, and I respect that,” said Ms. Throne-Holst, explaining her attempt to save the Canoe Place Inn, even if it means granting the Rechlers greater density through a zoning change.

The town will host another community meeting to discuss possible options on Monday, September 13, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Hampton Bays High School auditorium. At the time, officials plan to discuss what the Rechlers can build under current zoning, according to town officials.

According to Mr. Rechler, the firm’s original vision for the Canoe Place Inn property was not greeted favorably by the town or community. It was after that plan was widely condemned by residents that Ms. Throne-Holst said she approached the cousins about possibly renovating, and preserving, the Canoe Place Inn. It was the Rechlers, the supervisor said, who offered to save the inn if the town were willing to create a PDD on the east side of the canal.

All PDDs require some sort of public benefit, and the supervisor has argued that the preservation of the inn, which the Rechlers could legally demolish, addresses that criteria. The inn property is now zoned as a resort waterfront district.

As part of their counterproposal, the Rechlers would agree to build a walkway that is open to the public along the east side of the canal. The developers, who hope to build 40 luxury condos valued at about $1 million each, would also have to construct a wastewater treatment plant on another 2.6 acres of wooded property located on the east side of North Road, across the street from the proposed condos.

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Many people say that if PDDs are to continue in Southampton, there must be a clear definition of the significant public benefit which is the condition for granting PDD status. It's a hard notion to define, and the Town may have to proceed by giving examples of what would and wouldn't constitute a significant public benefit. Experience has shown that, say, a minimal provision for affordable housing doesn't cut it. Something else that would be hard to justify as a significant public benefit is ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 10, 10 8:26 PM