New York State Assemblyman has drafted state legislation to allow municipalities with rich histories such as Southampton to keep chain stores and fast-food restaurants out of town, and he presented it Friday to the .
Thiele said that, at best, existing state law is unclear on whether villages and towns can pass their own laws regulating chains. His bill aims to give governing boards the confidence to move forward to protect their hometowns' historic character. "This is not a state mandate," he explained to Town Board members during a work session. "This is a state authorization that would allow you to expand your authority."
Thiele's bill hinges on the preservation of historic character.
“If you look across the country, there are a number of places that directly regulated formula stores," he explained. "Those who have been successful in regulating formula stores are typically able to show a history of trying to protect the rural character, and the aesthetics, etc., of their particular community.”
He said applying the law to a historic district, rather than a highway, will be easier to defend.
But the laws that have "gone down in flames" in court were justified by a desire to help local businesses against outsiders, Thiele said. “That’s not a legitimate public purpose. You can’t regulate economic competition. Economic competition is a no-no for zoning — you don’t have the authority to do that.”
Thiele, who is also the village attorney for Sag Harbor, said chain stores were front and center when the village revised its downtown zoning a couple years ago, but the Village Board was uncertain whether it had the authority to do anything about them.
“There were those that wanted to directly regulate formula stores — regulate chain stores — and the village looked at that and did not feel comfortable at the time that there was sufficient state legislation that would allow them to do that," he said. "It has also come up recently out of East Hampton in Montauk.”
“In particular, fast food restaurants have been an issue of concern in the town of Southampton,” he added.
A misconception about the legislation is that it is an outright prohibition of chain stores, according to Thiele, but he emphasized it is simply an option, and not mandatory.