Chain store restriction plan divides residents, business owners in East Hampton

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town board would Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town board would discuss a proposal to restrict chain stores at a work session in August. He is seen here in front of East Hampton village hall on Nov. 15, 2012. Photo Credit: John Roca

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The Town of East Hampton's plan to restrict chain stores divided residents and business owners during a public hearing on the issue last week.

Supporters, mostly homeowners, said the town code amendment would help preserve the town's unique character by ensuring the stores blend in with the local architecture, but opponents said it would arbitrarily burden businesses that could benefit the community.

The proposed law would require "formula stores," such as Whole Foods or Starbucks Coffee, to obtain a special permit following a detailed review by the town planning board.

Shopkeepers said the criteria that would determine approval or rejection of formula stores appeared to be overly subjective. They added that such stores provide jobs and economic opportunities for residents.

Susan Borgida said the UPS stores she and her husband, Chet, own in East Hampton Village and Sag Harbor blend in with their historic surroundings.

"We fit in with the rural feel of our community," Borgida said, after displaying photographs of the stores. "Formula stores are not necessarily bad."

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Margaret Turner, executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, said the popularity of local chain supermarkets and pharmacies showed the stores are needed.

"Most people would love to have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to shop at," she said. "This resolution is too far-reaching and would come back to haunt the town."

Supporters dismissed suggestions that the law would drive away national chains.

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"There are many, many people in town who are happy about this law," said resident Jeanne Frankl. "Businesses want to come to East Hampton. It's the hottest place in the nation. They will come and they will follow our rules."

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town board would discuss the proposal at a work session in August. He said he did not know when the board would vote on it.

"It gives us a chance to consider the comments" made at the public hearing, he said.

The proposed code amendment is a revised version of a previous plan, which would have banned such stores near historic districts and buildings.

Some speakers at the public hearing said they preferred that plan, which would have effectively restricted chain stores to only a few corners of town.

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