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Montauk businesses, residents: Go slow on study to move downtown inland

Hotels along South Emerson Avenue, top, and South

Hotels along South Emerson Avenue, top, and South Elmwood Avenue in Montauk, seen on Wednesday. The hotels are in a relocation zone that would move much of downtown Montauk inland in response to rising sea levels. Credit: Randee Daddona

Montauk business owners and community members are urging East Hampton Town to delay adopting a long-range plan that includes a recommendation to move the hamlet’s downtown inland in response to rising sea levels.

A call for vulnerable properties to retreat from the shoreline through a transfer of development rights is included in a draft of the town’s hamlet studies — planning guides that have been underway since 2016. The reports for the five hamlets of Wainscott, East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett and Montauk will require environmental review and formal adoption into the town’s comprehensive plan.

The planning documents were largely met with support from community groups, including Concerned Citizens of Montauk. But others have started voicing concerns about the hamlet study, which outlines areas on South Elmwood Avenue and South Essex Street for relocated resort use.

One downtown businessman estimated the hotels annually infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy and said the plan doesn't contain enough data on the plan's economic impact. 

“When we have numbers that big, shouldn’t we have more meat on the bones,” said Steve Kalimnios, owner of the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort, which is on South Emerson Avenue in the proposed relocation zone.

Kalimnios asked the town to commission an economic and feasibility study of the inland retreat plan to flesh out issues such as what percentage of the area's hotels could be moved. More than 20 people have publicly raised concerns over the hamlet studies since the close of the public hearings, with some claiming it doesn't represent the needs of Montauk locals.

The hamlet study proposes allowing developers to purchase oceanside properties and transfer those development rights inland, but it does not require a move. Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board liaison for the study, stressed that taking properties through eminent domain is not mentioned in the document.

“As a private owner you can accept [the recommendation] or you can not accept,” she said. “You don’t have to retreat.”

Still, residents said the hamlet study would influence future development.

“Once this idea of retreat or reconfiguration of downtown Montauk is in the comp plan … every building application is going to be viewed a lot differently than it is currently,” Montauk Chamber of Commerce president Paul Monte said during a recent work session.

The town board is to discuss the studies at work sessions beginning Tuesday and decide if they are ready to move forward with the plans or make changes to the documents, Overby said.

Town officials also are exploring options to shore up the Montauk beach that, according to the hamlet study, has eroded by 44 feet since 2000.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project calls for 450,000 cubic yards of sand placement for the downtown Montauk beach. Town officials have formed a committee to study an erosion control taxing district to fund future sand replenishment. Bistrian Materials of East Hampton has submitted a $1.1 million bid to place sand over a sandbag seawall that has been exposed by erosion.

Montauk Hamlet Study Recommendations

  • Hotel owners could redevelop their properties inland through a transfer of development rights.
  • Wastewater system improvements would allow for added density inland. Second-floor apartments could be built over current one-story buildings.
  • Grocery uses could be moved to higher ground. An IGA currently stands near the intersection of South Elder Street and Montauk Highway.

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