On Feb. 7 I attended a Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee meeting at which Freda Eisenberg presented a draft of the Country Road 39 Corridor Land Use Plan being prepared for Southampton Town. The study references vision, growth, community needs, public benefits, redevelopment etc. However, in my opinion, the real intent of this “study” was apparent in a few key sentences:
Paragraph 1: “Highway Business (HB) is the predominant commercial zone in the corridor ... The HB zone prohibits many retail uses, limiting commercial activity to that which is largely auto-dependent, and which provides goods and services that are not a good fit with the Town's village and hamlet commercial centers . . .”
The last paragraph of page 11: “Additionally, the economic downturn and commercial vacancies on the corridor, prompted considerations of whether the permitted use mix might be broadened ...”
And the first paragraph of section E. Industrial Uses: “The industrial use category provides the most opportunity for expanding the use base in the HB zone.”
The study pays lip service to preservation and concern for what the community has identified as problems, but its conclusions are contained in its many assumptions and the intent is clearly to justify changing the zoning along a 5-mile length of County Road 39 in Tuckahoe to allow more development which is a foregone conclusion.
This document, draft or not, is rife with a convoluted rationale. A random sampling demonstrates that it is loaded with untested assumptions that support its development conclusion:
Section D) Building Size: Recommendation 11. “Amend the code to reduce the maximum building size permitted in HB and OD, and to expand the special exception criteria for proposals to exceed the threshold.”
When this was questioned at the meeting, we were told that expansion means restriction.
Sound contradictory, confusing, muddled? For clarification read the footnote:
“Among the special exception criteria for the larger size building should be proximity to existing development at least 5,000 sq ft greater than what is proposed. The purpose of the criterion is to allow larger buildings when needed to provide context to existing large-scale development, thereby reducing the visual prominence of any single large-scale use.”
Translation: We will lessen the impact of something like the 20,000 square foot Mercedes Benz dealership by encouraging 20,000 square foot developments to be built on either side of it. In other words, we will mitigate our mistake by creating another one.
“Recommendation 14. Expand permitted uses on the highway to support economic development while establishing performance standards to control impact.”
Translation: We are going to blow a hole in the current zoning restrictions, opening up the corridor to development of whatever type we deem appropriate, but we will make sure they plant a few trees. The fact that expanded uses will increase negative impacts making “performance standards” irrelevant, seems not to have occurred to the authors.
Page 15, paragraph 2: “Although retail is generally not wanted on the corridor, it may become appropriate in certain locations such as the Tuckahoe Lane area which is expecting new residential development”
Translation: First we invented the need and now we plan to exploit it. I could find nowhere in this “draft” where any “need” for development has been established. What I did find was that the opinions of those living on or surrounding this 5-mile corridor seem to be considered irrelevant in the face of “economic development”. And, what does “it may become appropriate in certain locations” mean if not a preface to being told the planners will change zoning as they see fit and for whom they see fit. As this recommendation is so pointed, it is difficult not to read this (and the entire “study”) as simply providing a rationale for the Town Board to facilitate development outside of current zoning restrictions.
The only mention of the public's input in this “study” came in a paragraph which completely misrepresents that input:
Page 12, paragraph 3: “Public involvement efforts conducted for this study found that community members were more concerned over impacts of the development than in specific use types or development forms.”
What exactly these “public involvement efforts” entailed is unclear. But, it must certainly be noted that to make the false distinction between “impact” and “type of use” as this document attempts to do to imply there would be no public opposition to industrial or large retail use as long as the impact were mitigated is to misrepresent the public. Impact is determined by land use – they are inseparable. The overwhelming negative public outcry against changing use to allow the Morrow mega mall on County Road 39 shows that the public clearly understands the connection between land use and impacts.
I cannot address every recommendation in this document, The few I have cited clearly are intended to change zoning restrictions to allow increased development, which include a recommendation to introduce expanded industrial uses on County Road 39.
The entire document is inherently contradictory, and therefore hopelessly confusing, as it is written in defense of what can only be defined as “expansive restriction.” Therefore, to my mind, it is not a “study” at all.
The Planning staff and consultants who wrote these draft Zoning Recommendations propose to ameliorate the consequences of the zoning changes they are promoting by recommending, but not requiring, improved aesthetic standards. One CAC member in attendance asked if these zoning expansions would allow a “Walmart if it looked like a Swiss chalet.” The framers of this draft “study” would create size restrictions, then make exceptions to those restrictions under the guise of reduced visual prominence, with final determinations being made on a case by case basis. As to the often expressed concerns of the public, the underlying message of the “study”, whether baldly stated or by inference, is that the public might not know what is best for themselves.
As I was leaving the meeting with a copy of the Draft of the Corridor Land Use Plan under my arm it was suggested that perhaps it would be better if I left the document — a “study” conducted for the public and paid for by the public — behind. However, it was decided that it would be okay if I took the “study”, as long as I remembered that it is only a “draft”.
Out of respect to Ms. Eisenberg, who fielded questions with the utmost professionalism throughout my two hours in attendance, I reiterate that what I am addressing is only a “draft,” though it has been four years in the making and deals with only 5 strategic miles of County Road 39.
My concern is that this draft, though incomplete by definition, already asks for the whole pie so that it can eventually settle for 7/8.
This “study” states that it proposes “an array of potential strategies for achieving the “corridor vision.” The question I have is, whose vision?