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Oct 21, 2014 2:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Developers Roll Out Changes For Canoe Place Inn Project

Oct 21, 2014 3:53 PM

In addition to scaling back the size and scope of proposed townhouses along the eastern side of the Shinnecock Canal, the developers behind the Canoe Place Inn redevelopment project in Hampton Bays have offered to reshape traffic along both sides of the canal in an effort to win community support.

After hearing extensive feedback from town officials and hamlet residents last year—much of it criticizing the number of townhouses pitched for 2.8 acres of canal-side land—cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler have unveiled a new plan for their proposed Maritime Planned Development District, or MPDD. The revised plan reduces the number of proposed townhouses from 40 to 37, shrinking each unit by about 10 percent in size, while also lowering the number of buildings from nine to seven.

In the final environmental impact statement, which was unveiled and accepted by the Town Board last Thursday, October 16, the developers behind R Squared Development LLC also lay out plans to reconfigure both North Road to the east and Newtown Road to the west by removing the entrance ramps onto Montauk Highway from each road and replacing both with “T-shaped” intersections. The $1.55 million undertaking would be an effort to curb the number of accidents that already occur at each location while also accounting for the new traffic that will be brought to the area by a revamped hotel and catering facility that would be opened on the Canoe Place Inn property, which sits on the western side of the canal, as well as the townhouses, Gregg Rechler said in an interview on Monday afternoon.

“[We] could reduce the visual impact of the property by landscaping all this land that’s currently a road,” he said. “You could really soften the visual impact of the property.”

The Canoe Place Inn MPDD, which has been in the works since 2010, includes three properties—the Canoe Place inn property on the west side of the canal, the former Tide Runners property on the east side of the waterway and a 2.7-acre lot that sits just east of North Road. The MPDD came about in 2010 after the Rechlers’ original plan to level the inn to build condominiums in its place received significant push-back from the public.

Mr. Rechler said when putting together the new plan, he and his partners boiled the most recent set of community concerns down to seven points: size and density of the townhouses, the location of the wastewater treatment plant servicing the homes, managing nitrogen leakage from the inn’s sewage, traffic safety, canal visibility, public access to the canal and potential noise emanating from the inn.

Under the new plan, the townhouses would average 1,978 square feet in size, instead of 2,200 square feet under the original plans, according to town planning officials. Likewise, the clubhouse building accompanying the townhouses was to be reduced from 6,000 square feet to 1,900 square feet. In total, the developers are reducing the amount of canal-side development by about 20 percent, from an estimated 94,000 square feet to 75,086 square feet.

Since the details of the plan have not been widely distributed, it is unclear whether the subtraction of three townhouses has quelled concerns about increased density in the hamlet. The reduction, however, will mean less tax revenue for Hampton Bays, Mr. Rechler noted, citing projections that 10-year tax revenues for the various taxing districts within the hamlet—including the library, ambulance company, fire department, water district and, predominantly, the school district—have dropped from $8.1 million under the old plan to $7.6 million under the new plan.

Mr. Rechler said the proposed traffic solution was conceived, in part, by Suffolk County. The county has offered to hand over the Newtown Road entrance ramp onto Montauk Highway, which runs in front of the now-defunct inn, the North Road ramp, which put drivers directly onto the bridge across the canal, as well as the adjacent triangular medians, to the town. The town, in turn, would then grant an easement to the Rechlers, who have proposed to remove the ramps and widen both North and Newtown roads.

The North Road easement would be used to for public parking and a boardwalk leading to a fishing pier along the eastern side of the canal, according to Mr. Rechler.

“We’re not building on this land,” he said. “We’re not using it toward our density, but we’re using it as a buffered, landscaped area. We’re gonna spend more than a million dollars to improve all this and landscape it, but it will all be done through easements.”

The new plan also shows far less excavation of the townhouse site. Rather than extensively digging up the canal-side property, which runs between Montauk Highway and the railroad tracks on the east side of the waterway, the application now calls for the property’s existing contours to be left more or less as they are.

“In the old plan, the entire site was going to be graded to the same level,” Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins told Town Board members during a work session last Thursday. “Now they are substantially working within the existing grade.”

The new designs were clearly intended to lessen the visual impacts of the townhouse buildings, which had been a point of contention among Hampton Bays residents in the public hearings held on the project last year. Mr. Rechler also noted that they intend to install shrubs and landscaping along North Road instead of installing a noise-reduction wall as previously proposed.

Mr. Collins noted, however, that the plans still show the seven townhouse buildings being 35 feet tall, which conforms with current zoning for the property, though that zoning is targeted as commercial development. Mr. Collins suggested that the Town Board require that the buildings meet the residential maximum height of 32 feet.

The plans for the CPI redevelopment, meanwhile, remained largely the same as in the original application, with a few adjustments to account for noise concerns from outdoor events. The new plan calls for the outdoor catering and party area to be built to the west of the inn, rather than to the north. The area would be at a lower ground level and surrounded by two retaining walls, each of which would have vegetation growing over them.

Although the new plan is noticeably different from the version presented last year, some issues that were raised by the public still remain, with those concerns mainly having to do with septic. The plan still calls for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility on the easternmost property, a proposal that has drawn the ire of the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

The new plan calls for a Nitrex treatment facility, which filters harmful nutrients from liquid waste, to be placed on the western portion of the land along Old Canoe Place Road rather than the eastern portion near Wildwood Lane—a move that Mr. Rechler said would be less intrusive in the neighborhood.

Planning officials told the Town Board that there was still considerable work that would have to go into the plans for the wastewater treatment property. The revised plan would require extensive excavation as well as clear-cutting to make way for the facility.

Rita Knox, who lives on nearby Seneca Drive in the neighborhood adjacent to the land targeted for the wastewater treatment facility, said she still has concerns about having such a unit built that close to her home. She and her neighbors are worried about what it will do to their property values and to the aesthetics of their community.

Additionally, Ms. Knox, who works in commercial real estate, said placing one community’s sewage treatment facility, or anything of that ilk, in another community sets a terrible precedent. “It certainly is troubling that they want to pump sewage from the wealthy community across the road into our more middle-class neighborhood,” she said. “That’s not a good precedent for the town to set.”

Ms. Knox noted on Monday that she has not yet seen the revised plans, though the Rechlers said they have reached out to her and her neighbors. Ms. Knox said she hopes to review the changes with the developers more thoroughly to get a better sense of what they involve.

During the earlier public hearings, many urged the Rechlers to incorporate the Nitrex system, widely considered to be one of the best ways to deal with liquid waste. In their revisions, however, the developers proposed installing an underground permeable retaining barrier around the Canoe Place Inn property that is designed to catch between 95 and 100 percent of the nitrogen that would leach from the property’s septic system. According to the plan, the town would be able to monitor the effectiveness of the barrier on a yearly basis and, if it catches 94 percent of the nitrogen or less, the developers will replace the system, Mr. Rechler said. The barrier, which is supposed to prevent nitrogen from other nearby properties from getting into the canal, would cost $330,000.

In order for either aspect of the project to move forward, the Town Board will have to declare the two properties a PDD, allowing the existing zoning to be set aside in favor of a development carrying substantial benefits to the surrounding community.

The town’s PDD law calls for public benefits, such as park space, affordable housing, or elder or child care facilities. However, the Rechlers maintain that their proposal would provide public benefits by building a $538,000 boardwalk and fishing pier, improving the roads, giving the town a quarter million dollars toward open space preservation and granting an easement of land to the town to be added to the Paumanok Path, an intricate system of trails that runs from Rocky Point to Montauk Point.

“Part of the reason why it’s such a good project now is because it really was a collaborative effort between staff from the planning side in local government and the community,” Mr. Rechler said. “I think it got better and better, but I also think it’s the best it can be at this stage.”

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