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Sep 20, 2016 11:47 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Major Changes Waiting In Wings For Montauk Harbor

Consultants and Montauk residents explored a wide range of future possibilities and hurdles for Montauk during the four days of the hamlet study charettes last week. Michael Wright
Sep 20, 2016 1:51 PM

For all the talk about how much Montauk has changed with the influx of wealthy part-timers, the planning consultants conducting the town’s hamlet studies say that what’s happened so far in the easternmost hamlet is a mere flicker of what is coming. And no place in Montauk has more potential for new development and large-scale redevelopment than the harbor area.

Several large tracts of vacant commercial land—many of which are already for sale—and equally as many are only developed at a sliver of their potential build-out, the consultants told Montauk residents during last week’s four days of planning discussions that common sense demands an understanding that big changes are coming to the harbor area in the not-too-distant future.

Guiding those changes to steer the harbor’s future in the direction the permanent residents of Montauk would like to see it, will the be the challenge of the consultants’ planning suggestions and, ultimately, the town’s use of its land management powers.

“Change is coming, whether you like it or not,” Peter Flinker, a partner of the Massachusetts-based consulting firm Dodson & Flinker that is conducting the in-depth studies of the commercial centers of all of the town’s hamlets, told dozens of Montauk residents during one of the six meetings. “The Gosman’s property will be sold to a developer that is going to want maximum value. You need to be able to tell them what you want, that you want to keep the fishing village look … and mixed uses.”

Throughout the four days of charrettes—a semi free-form discussion between the development experts and residents common in long-term planning studies, the fishing industry’s root role in the Montauk harbor region was the anchor issue. Despite the upswell of surfing chic in recent years, the down-to-earth culture, economics and aesthetic of the fishing industry is Montauk’s defining characteristic and must be preserved, residents told the consultants repeatedly.

“To lose the commercial fishing docks is to lose the essence of Montauk,” resident Andy Harris said. “The economic contribution of the commercial fishing industry in this town is incredible. They live in this town, they shop in this town, and they don’t go out to eat at restaurant groups that send the money back to New York City.”

The Gosman’s plaza, a collection of shops and restaurants and a commercial fishing station, gets much of the focus in talks of a sale, but the large tracts of undeveloped land, and that are dedicated to parking spots, the family owns across West Lake Drive from the plaza, hold even larger potential for new development. The town’s waterfront zoning limits potential broad changes at the plaza, but the other parcels have a broad variety of potential development possibilities. Current economic incentives nod to residential development, most likely condominiums, as being the top dollar-getter.

But guiding the redevelopment of the Gosman’s property and others nearby owned by the Uihleins and Forsbergs, the consultants said, could be the key to preserving the fishing-centric waterfront by incorporating it into tourism-centric development.

In discussions with residents using large aerial photos of the harbor adorned with foam blocks representing existing and potential structures, the consultants suggested the possibility of allowing more commercial buildings along the streetfront in the harbor’s main stretch of shops, restaurants and charter boat slips, where a hodgepodge of crumbling parking lots are now the marquee. A central parking area could be created across the street, or even underneath the new development, and surrounded by more street-front retail and new residential or hotel development on the water-facing properties.

One model that emerged from the tinkering, showed a collection of three and four-story buildings on the Gosman’s property, with ground-level parking beneath residential and commercial development. The result was glaring for those accustomed to today’s quaint layout, Mr. Flinker admitted, but could mean parks instead of paved parking spots, adding to the attractiveness to strolling consumers.

“It’s shocking, but it allows more open space,” Mr. Finkler said.

Several residents suggested that an uninterrupted boardwalk along the docks, snaking through the entire harbor area like it does along the front of Gosman’s and Salivar’s dock, would bolster the attractiveness of the area for tourists while helping charter fishing businesses and enhancing the connection of the public to the fishing industry.

The harbor area’s large open tracts also present opportunities for new housing aimed at the large fishing and seasonal service industry population. On parcels set back from the prime waterfront, where motels and efficiency cottages now provide a smattering of housing, more extensive development could create dozens more units.

The trick, the consultants said, will be finding the right mix of allowances and constraints that let the development evolve in a way that grows out of the existing features of the hamlet, rather than squeezing them out.

“If you want things to stay the same,” Mr. Flinker said, invoking an age-old planning proverb, “Something has got to change.”

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Commercial fishing has been the lifeblood of Montauk for decades! Who really gives a flying f*** about the city developers?? Will they be in town in the middle of February?
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Sep 20, 16 4:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
"Change is coming whether you like it or not" is not a way to endear yourself with a community. Im all for progress but people who live in and support the year round community need jobs, affordable places to live, and a voice in their future. I don't live in Montauk but this needs to be a theme throughout the east end.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Sep 20, 16 9:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a horrible statement , "change is coming " I see that comment as a threat to the livlihood of fisherman . Agricultural workers ( fisherman an farmers ) have the 2nd highest suicide rate in the work place !!! So why would even entertain the idea of destroying the lives of the local fisherman ! Will we still be proud of the changes when the Fisherman succumb to the pressures of trying to survive in a place where wealth an greed destroyed them ? What kind of message is Montauk trying to send out?! ...more
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Sep 22, 16 8:45 AM
I attended all of the meetings and found the overall tone of the some of the planners as somewhat patronizing. As a year-round resident and member of the fishing community, I made clear that before any of the changes were to even be thought of, those that live and work in the area MUST be included in the discussions. 30 people in a room cannot and should not be the final decision makers for the future of our 3000+ year round resident town. Five days of consecutive meetings at night left out substantial ...more
By licfa (15), Montauk on Sep 22, 16 11:46 AM
and the members of the charter, headboat and recreational community down at the Harbor. Without appropriate buy-in from all sectors of our community, forcing an agenda benefits no one.
By licfa (15), Montauk on Sep 22, 16 11:48 AM
Yesterday was the78th anniversary of the Hurricane of 38.

It'll happen again.
By btdt (449), water mill on Sep 22, 16 4:46 PM
1 member liked this comment