On September 1, 2022, I sent a letter to the East Hampton Town Planning Board, Planning Department and Zoning Board of Appeals regarding a proposed redevelopment project at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton. I've attached the letter below.
This is a 3/4 acre parcel, that for decades has been the site of an endless series of discos/nightclubs and restaurants. At some point, it was called Tsunami, and it is currently operating as Mars & El Turco. In the letter I cite that the building is 70 years old, based on the discussions before the boards; however, Zillow indicates it was built in 1911.
The property had gone on the market for sale back in 2016 for a few years, but it did not sell. The existing owners have an application pending for several years now with the Town to redevelop the site into a mixed use project, all retail on the first floor, plus office space and a couple apartments on the new second story.
Perhaps redeveloping the site away from a nightclub, which has been a nuisance to the neighborhood in season, to something more useful that residents might want/need is not a bad thing. However…
The pending application expands the structure, which is what’s known as a legal non-conforming building, by a factor of more than 2, to well over 12,000 square feet (plus another 6800 square feet of usable below grade space) and will max out along height and pyramid allowances, wont meet current code setbacks, and the rest of the lot will be a paved parking lot with 48 spaces.
The full application remains incomplete and from what I can tell, no final approvals have been granted by the boards and no building permit issued. Yet last week, a Nassau county based developer of shopping centers and strip malls that house only chain tenants (see the the last photo below for their list of tenants across all their properties) started marketing the space for lease, using these images, in particular some drawings the bear no resemblance to what has been submitted to our Town Planning and Zoning Boards.
Oh and if the architectural style in the drawings feels familiar…yeah you’ve seen it before…
This would be a big transition in density, and a move from the visual of a 70-year-old, one-story wood structure and a low key gravel parking lot, all of which has a kind of rural feel to it, to a suburban style retail complex.
The following is the text of my letter. I anticipate this application will appear back on the Planning Board regular meeting agenda in the not-too-distant future, and I'll keep you posted.
September 1, 2022
To: Chairman Samuel Kramer and Members of the East Hampton Town Planning Board; Eric Schantz, Planning Department
Cc: East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals
From: Jaine Mehring
Re: Redevelopment of 44 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton
Dear Chairman Kramer and Members of the East Hampton Town Planning Board,
This letter relates to the long-pending application to redevelop the 32,962 square foot lot at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton. Tax map number: SCTM#300-161-04-09
More specifically, I am writing to you because earlier this week it came to my attention that a commercial real estate developer based in Garden City, Long Island by the name of Breslin Realty has begun marketing the leasing of retail space at this property. I learned of this as two real-estate-agent friends of mine both, separately, forwarded to me a promotional/marketing email they received from Breslin about it this week.
This marketing activity strikes me as somewhat troubling behavior on the part of an applicant, and it disrespects our Town’s crucial review and approval processes. So, I wanted to come to you to express my concern and to better understand the status of the application and the process from here, including the possible timing of the next site plan review and when the public will have the opportunity to offer input to the Planning Board on this proposed redevelopment?
Indeed, I know that the redevelopment of 44 Three Mile Harbor has appeared before the Planning Board and the ZBA as “Cilvan Realty LLC,” but I do not have recollection of the actual owner being disclosed nor do I recall indication of this Breslin Realty company as a party to the application.
The marketing I have seen this week includes emailing to the real estate community and promoting it on their own website. Here is the marketing “flyer” they are now distributing:
These marketing materials include “conceptual” drawings/elevations of what is planned on the site. Though I understand the “conceptual” disclaimer, the drawing seems to suggest a possibility of five separate retail uses planned. They state on their website that the 6,690 sq feet of planned first floor retail space is “divisible,” though I believe the Planning Department memo last year per Marco Wu indicated one wet retail use was proposed.
In addition, here is the Breslin Realty website as well as the page on the site that lists their Suffolk County portfolio, including 44 Three Mile Harbor (you can toggle to their other geographic area holdings via this page if you’d like).
And finally, here is their website page that reviews their list of tenants included in their portfolio of properties.
As I understand it, an application related to redevelopment of this parcel has been pending before the Planning Board for several years, and that it was reshaped and perhaps modified/reduced somewhat at least once over that time.
As I only began to engage in some detail with the activity of East Hampton boards beginning in 2020, I am not fully versed in all the early meetings, reviews and correspondence that might have come before 2021. However, I do recall watching the meetings live at the time they were before the Planning Board meetings of May 19, 2021 and June 16, 2021 where this application was on the agenda and discussed. In addition, I also watched live when the ZBA public hearing regarding the variances took place on October 19, 2021 as well as their post-hearing decision/vote on January 18, 2022.
After seeing the Breslin email the other day and in preparation for writing this letter, I re-watched closely those meetings/discussions via the LTV VOD links and reviewed what related documents I could find in the files on the Town website.
From re-watching the sessions, my impression is that the Planning Board was generally favorable to the redevelopment application, primarily because it eliminated what they considered to be the undesirable nightclub use that had been on the site for decades, and they were swayed by the proposed inclusion of two “workforce” apartments on the second story. Specifically, 6 members supported granting a variance for the 11-parking-spot deficiency and supported the two requested area variances for setbacks. But as the one member opposing stated, variances would not be necessary if the applicant simply reduced the scale of the building.
I also know having watched their post-hearing decision discussion that the ZBA allowed the parking variance and one setback variance to accommodate the two second-floor apartments, but they denied the very large setback variance for the outdoor decking. (Interestingly, the conceptual drawing being marketed by Breslin appears to show meaningful second-floor outdoor decking.)
The Zoning Board at the time expressed concern that they were being asked to approve variances in mid-stream and when they did not have the full picture, specifically (a) that they did not know what the Suffolk County review and permitting process would resolve relative to issues of curb cuts and encroachment into the right-of-way on Three Mile Harbor etc; (b) they didn’t have any valid architectural or structural plans for the building from the applicant; (c) there was no meaningful guidance from the applicant regarding the specific retail use(s) that would be on the site, and (d) this is an extraordinary degree of expansion of a legal non-conforming structure.
Perhaps most importantly, during the public hearing, Chairman Whelan expressed significant concern about the applicant’s assertion that the existing wooden 70-year-old building that sits atop a cinder block foundation would/could be retained and simply added onto to achieve the expansion plans and addition of a second story, noting that if most of the existing structure “ends up in the dumpster” then the project should be redesigned to become more conforming.
Overall, the ZBA articulated its expectation the issue would go back to the Planning Board for further review as the plans took shape and anticipated the possibility that the matter would at some point come back before the ZBA for another hearing and review. Specifically in its October 13, 2010 letter to the ZBA, the Planning Board was clear “The Board has also expressed that other site plan design elements, such as the frontage towards Three Mile Harbor Road will need to be addressed pending the Zoning Board’s review.”
In short, it is my impression that this is still a pending application with scores of open issues, no public input, and no formal approvals given or permits issued. And yet, here we are with a large and very savvy real estate developer actively marketing the leasing of the retail space as if the project is approved and on its way to construction.
I would, if possible at some point, like to be able to confirm several elements, including: if the County completed its review and rendered decisions about the application, if complete architectural plans have been submitted by the applicant for further Board review, If the applicant has provided a detailed narrative about uses at the site, if there are tangible details provided as to how the so called “workforce” apartments will be covenanted to remain “affordable,” what will be the procedures to determine the apartment rents, occupant eligibility, occupant selection etc. and when are the next steps in the Town review process for the project.
Whether any of us dislike the night club usage or not and whether it is an ongoing nuisance, visually, the site for decades presents a fairly low impact viewshed by day, with a 70-year-old, one-story wooden building and a gravel parking lot. For lack of a better phrase, there is a bit of an unpolished, low key appearance to the site that in ways is compatible with the rural character of East Hampton as well as this stretch of Three Mile Harbor Road.
But now we are potentially looking at a fully paved parcel-filling parking lot and a structure approaching 20,000 square feet of usable retail/office/residential space (per the April 21, 2021 Planning Department memo: 12,421 of GFA plus an improved 6,883 basement.) – a massive expansion of a non-conforming structure – and per the Pam Glazer, Architect drawings it would max out relative to height and pyramid allowances. Or if we consider the Breslin drawings/materials, we are looking at a structure that resembles a suburban shopping center/outlet center building to be populated with strip-mall chain retailers. Any of these versions represents a concerning scale, type and level of development intensity on this relatively modest ¾ acre lot abutting residential districts. If I may -- substituting one problematic usage in a small Neighborhood Business District with another does not strike me as an optimal outcome for East Hampton.
During the ZBA hearing, the applicant’s architect was asked if the project could be reduced in size, to which she responded that they could not make the “economics” work with any reduction in size of the building and threatened that if they didn’t get approval of the scale as currently scoped, they would just leave the nightclub in place. I do not think our Boards, nor our citizens, are here to be held hostage to or to ensure that the economics of the project meet the desires of a private investor/developer. Any inability to earn their needed profit margin or realize a certain return on a new redevelopment is a self-created problem.
I look forward to the Board’s further reviews and thoughtful discussions regarding this application.
Many thanks for your attention.