Critics of a plan for a new grocery store on the site of a closed car dealership berated members of the Southampton Village Board Thursday night, with one resident threatening to sue the village if the proposal that would allow such development in the highway business zone passes.
At issue was what kind of precedent the law would set, whether the village even needs another grocery store and if the spot being eyed for one is suited for a supermarket. The law would affect nine parcels in the highway business zone, but the dealership site on the corner of Hampton and Flying Point roads is being actively pursued by The Fresh Market, a chain of grocery stores that already lists a store at the dealership’s address as “Coming Soon” on its website.
Village Mayor Mark Epley said that passing the law does not guarantee a supermarket will be built anywhere. He said it would still require planning board approval for the site plan and other review, then — because a supermarket would be a special exception use — the plan would ultimately come before the Village Board for a vote.
“It’s not a rubber stamp on anything,” Epley said.
But many critics did not see it that way.
“I know when I see a case of spot zoning,” said Abe Wallach, who identified himself as a city planner. He said the other eight properties were included under the proposed zoning amendment to make it look like it is not spot zoning, the unlawful practice of making a zoning change that is out of step with a master plan for the benefit of one parcel.
“I personally will file a lawsuit, on principal, and I will pay for it myself,” Wallach said. “I will have to refer this matter to the proper authorities for investigation.”
Rachel Verno, chair of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee, said the CAC voted to oppose the zoning amendment because, she says, it was brought on by a developer, and not village and town planners.
But Epley said that is not the case. For years, he said, residents have been asking the board to do something to bring a new supermarket into the village. According to Epley, the residents often complain about the quality of and want an alternative, and he’s told Waldbaum’s executives that. “I’ve told the regional vice president it’s the worst store in the village,” he said.
Village Trustee Nancy McGann said there were once five grocery shopping options within village boundaries, but now there are only two, Schmidt’s and Waldbaum’s.
Wallach said the board makes Southampton sound like a medieval village where the gates close at night and no one can get out. He said that, in reality, shoppers can drive to nearby supermarkets in Bridgehampton or Hampton Bays.
Dennis Schmidt of said The Fresh Market is not an alternative to Waldbaum’s, as it is more of a gourmet food store than a supermarket.
Mike DeGennaro of at the Water Mill Commons, located 1.5 miles from the car dealership site, said a new grocery store would be devastating for his business and the others at the Commons, and it would add traffic right at a bottleneck, where eastbound traffic on Hampton Road and County Road 39A gets onto Montauk Highway.
But Village Trustee Bill Hattrick refuted the argument that there would be more traffic in the village. “We’re not all going to eat twice as much because we have two stores,” he said.
Southampton-Shinnecock Hills-Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Bonnie Goebert said the majority of her CAC opposed the zoning amendment, saying it would be the death of a historic village and wreck the quality of life for Flying Point Road residents.
She said the law would set a dangerous precedent and open the door for the likes of Walgreen’s and Target.
Arnold Paster, representing the owners of 33 Flying Point Road, an office building to the south of the site, said they would fiercely fight a grocery store there.
Former Village Trustee Paul Robinson suggested that the dealership site would make a much better park than supermarket.
Among one of the few supporters of the proposal was Michele Sacconaghi, a yoga instructor in the village who said she favors more shopping options in the area.
Others also agreed with the need for another grocery store, but said they wanted it any place but the dealership site, citing traffic and safety among their concerns.
Kathryn Stachecki, whose family owns a barn and two acres on County Road 39 that is up for sale, said she’s like to see the law pass so her family can unload the property. She said hers is a family of farmers, and the property has become an economic hardship to them that they cannot sell under current zoning restrictions.
The public hearing will continue at the Village Board work session Jan. 24.