EAST HAMPTON — The owner of the Citgo gas station and Food Bag convenience store at 1 Colchester Ave. has applied for change of zoning for two adjacent residential properties, creating a larger footprint for the business to expand.
If approved, 157 Main Street and 5 Colchester Ave would be re-zoned from residential to commercial property. The owner, Atlantis Marketing Group of Mount Vernon, N.Y., has requested that after the change in zoning, the three parcels be merged into one.
A petition supporting “remodel and improvements” of the store — circulated by the Atlantis Marketing Group, known as AMG — collected 110 signatures, and the town had posted one letter of support for the project, prior to the April 7 meeting of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Neighbors gathered 82 signatures in opposition to the project. Other property owners in the town submitted a petition with 35 signatures opposing the project. Three merchants from the village center submitted a letter in opposition. The town also received 186 letters in opposition and an online petition in opposition collected 133 signatures.
At the meeting, Scott Jezek, an attorney representing Atlantis Marketing Group, said the current convenience store had served as a filling station from “sometime in the late 1940s.”
“When the town of East Hampton adopted its zoning regulations in 1961, the area here that’s shown in question was a commercial zone and then later on in 1990 that was changed to your present, R-2 zone,” he said.
Jezek told commission members that residential zoning on a thoroughfare identified in the town’s plan of conservation and development as a heavily-used “arterial road,” was at odds with planned economic growth.
“The purpose of identifying the streets as such is to encourage economic revitalization. That is the use of the word revitalization — to add life to add to the usage of the properties in those areas,” Jezek said. “The present use of single family residential, in our opinion, is somewhat inconsistent with the plan of conservation and development.”
The Charles A. Strong House, built in 1858, stands at 157 Main Street, and is listed by the National Park Service as a contributing resource to the Belltown National Register Historic District. The 2,400-square-foot brick house, containing four apartments, is currently unoccupied.
A 2,200-square-foot multi-family house built in 1920 also stands on the 1.4-acre site.
According to Jezek, the Strong house is unoccupied “and really not suitable for habitation right now.” He said that his client had been in discussion with Jeremy DeCarli,a planning and zoning official for the town, about “the best way to handle that.” The project proposal calls for the building to be removed.
“We are quite flexible. And that I think the ultimate decision was made to get input from your commission for any decision was made. So we have not made a decision with respect to that building, and to either leave it or remove it, and we’ll wait and see what the comments are and try to make a plan that best accommodates, whatever the comments are about that building,” said Jezek.
Jezek said the application was solely for a change of zoning. Building permits and a site plan would need to be approved at a later date.
“No determination has been made yet by the applicant as to precisely what that site plan will look like, which buildings will remain, which buildings will be included, what their uses would be. And so those are decisions that we would make later on once, and if, the zoning changes are made by the commission,” he said.
Jack Belowich, business development manager for Atlantis, told the commission that the project has been depicted in the media as “out of town developer looking to build a major mega gas station. He said, “That cannot be further from the truth. What you’re seeing tonight is strictly a concept plan.”
During the public hearing, DeCarli summarized 46 letters in opposition. The letter writers expressed a variety of concerns, ranging from the project’s consistency with the town’s plan of conservation and development, to the impact on the historic district and property values.
Irene Cook wrote that she was concerned about noise, trash, light, traffic, damage to property values, the “oversized footprint” of the project and overall destruction of the neighborhood.
Jacqueline Benedetto wrote that the project could increase pollution in the groundwater, and lead to nuisance trash and noise.
Members of the public also spoke to the commission at the meeting.
Jennifer Mikulkski said that the developer had used “comfort terms” to describe the project.
“‘A green space, planting areas.’ ‘This is just a concept plan.’ ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take your input.’ ‘No decisions on buildings.’ These are just things, in my opinion, that are trying to sway you into approving a zoning change,” she told the commission. “I just wanted to make a closing statement that I feel strongly that the push to rezone any form of residential whether it be R-1 to R-4 to commercial or industrial use, is ultimately the ruin of the ideal balance of commercial convenience, village charm, and rural residential life that is truly East Hampton … I think you’re putting the overall character of this town at risk,” she said.
Margaret McCutcheon Faber said the project will require the demolition of the Strong house and to date there were 656 signatures on a petition asking for the assistance of the Attorney General should a demolition permit be applied for or pulled.
Jodi Brazal, who lives within 500 feet of the project and is also the executive director of the East Hampton Housing Authority, said the loss of housing was a concern.
“I acknowledge the fact that the two houses on Main Street are in a condition that have not provided the tenants who formerly and presently reside there to safe and decent housing. However, to remove them completely will take away any opportunity to provide housing to a number of people. I hope that you would agree that East Hampton needs more housing, as opposed to a new hypermart,” she said.
At about 9:30 p.m., with at least 15 people waiting to speak and a number of agenda items left to address, Zatorski asked the commission to continue the public hearing to the next regular meeting on May 5.
Zatorski said he planned to visit the site before the May 5 meeting and encouraged commission members to do the same.
Cate Hewitt is a reporter and Associate Editor for CT Examiner. Hewitt covers planning and zoning issues.