A consultant has been hired to conduct detailed studies of the business areas of East Hampton's various hamlets to help map out plans for their future development or preservation as part of the town's comprehensive plan.

The Ashfield, Massachusetts-based firm Dodson & Flinker Inc. was hired last week to do studies for Wainscott, Springs, East Hampton, Amagansett and the downtown and dock areas of Montauk. The firm will be paid $285,000 for the work, which is expected to start in January and take about a year.

The studies will focus on existing land use, zoning, traffic, transportation, open space and recreation, as well as environmental issues, infrastructure and shopping habits.

Also included will be input from the public that will be gathered through dozens of public hearings, something board member Sylvia Overby said is key because of the distinct nature of each hamlet. She said Amagansett residents wouldn't want to live anyplace else, nor would those who live in Montauk and other communities.

"People here really love their hamlets," said Overby, who is helping lead the effort. "They all have this connection" with their hamlets.

Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town's planning director, agreed that the character of each hamlet has to be taken into consideration, along with the desires of residents and business owners.

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"It's that sense of place -- East Hampton hasn't lost it," Wolffsohn said. "It hasn't turned into a suburban sprawl."

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Montauk, for example, offers a different vibe than other hamlets, noting that the fishing village and family resort has become popular with a young summer party crowd. Amagansett's residents might be more concerned about the hamlet's business area retaining its historic charm than how to handle disruptive visitors.

Cantwell said that in Montauk, the study could focus attention on future growth and the type of visitors officials hope to attract.

"I think it's just an opportunity to drill down hamlet by hamlet, to make changes or improvements that the community can support," Cantwell said of the study.

Rick Del Mastro, a member of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, said the study is long overdue and will allow hamlet residents and business owners to be proactive instead of reactive.

"We've been pushing for a hamlet study for years," Del Mastro, 70, said. "Wainscott is the gateway to East Hampton, so it's important for us to have the right visual presence.

"When I came here 30 years ago it was so different . . . We have to get more current with the things that are taking place."