A proposed luxury senior housing development in East Hampton has been derailed after the incoming town board accused the outgoing majority of trying to fast-track the project before they left office.
The Suffolk County Planning Commission voted on Wednesday evening against a zone change on the 23.5 acres in Amagansett, where the owner proposes 35 cottages and 44 apartments restricted to those 55 and up. A one-bedroom would fetch as much as $1.8 million, the owner has said.
The five members of the incoming board signed a letter, dated Dec. 2, to the county planning commission, saying that a zone change for the proposal was an attempt by "a lame duck Town Board to approve this controversial and unprecedented project before it leaves office . . . "
David Calone, chairman of the county planning commission, said after the meeting that the proposed development seemed to be brought forward "without the appropriate deliberation . . . The town historically has been very strong thinking about how land was going to be used. This was really a departure of that tradition."
The county commission's opposition made the zone change unlikely, conceded Richard Whalen, the Amagansett-based attorney for the owner, Connecticut-based Putnam Amagansett Farm Holding, LLC.
Outgoing Supervisor Bill Wilkinson described concern over the public hearing as "hysteria."
He said Thursday that the majority simply wanted to hear from the community on the proposal. He did not necessarily support the plan or expect a vote this month. As for the timing, Wilkinson said the current board is still empowered to work.
"We were not elected to do our jobs for 46 out of 48 months, or 22 out of 24 months," he said. "I reject the whole lame duck concept."
Two days after the Nov. 5 election, the three outgoing town board members voted to schedule a public hearing on the proposal, which had last been heard in August and was the subject of negative reports by town planning staff. The two town board members who will return next year objected to scheduling the meeting on Dec. 19, the final meeting before officials swear in the new board.
Supporters of holding the public hearing were supervisor Wilkinson, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who did not run for reelection, and Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who lost his reelection bid. The sitting council members opposed were Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby. The letter was signed by Scoyoc, Overby, Supervisor Elect Larry Cantwell, and Councilwoman-elect Kathee Burke Gonazalez and Councilman-elect Fred Overton. The land is zoned for affordable housing, with 70 percent of the land used as farmland because it's listed as "prime agricultural soils."
Town projects, if they're close to county roads or land or are over a certain density, go to the County Planning Commission. If the commission votes against it, towns can over-ride it with a super-majority. Because of the planning commission's opposition, it will now require a supermajority of four out of five town board members to pass.
Whalen said his client submitted plans in April, and had no control over when the proposal was brought for a public hearing.
While there are subsidized senior housing developments in East Hampton, none are open to wealthier residents. Whalen said the owner saw a need for the free market senior housing.
The public hearings on Dec. 19 will move forward.
But Wilkinson said he never anticipated there would be a vote that day."I don't think they'll be a vote on this thing" at the meeting, he said. "How could you legitimately digest what you're hearing?"
Cantwell, the supervisor-elect, said he did not support the change in zoning.
The current zoning, he said, is "well thought out with tremendous community participation. To change it in response to a specific developer's proposal is not the way we should change zoning in East Hampton."