April 19, 2006
Bringing Foot Traffic To The Village
Intended to reinforce the retail economy of Southampton Village by encouraging pedestrian traffic, a new zoning law was given a somewhat icy reception at a public hearing last Thursday.
|Independent / Carey London
Lane Gretchen Snyder tells the Southampton Village Board of Trustees that he doesn't want the character of Main Street and Jobs Lane to change. He is speaking at a public hearing on the board's proposed law to restrict office businesses to the second floor in the village business district. (click for larger version)|
The Southampton Village Board of Trustees presented legislation that would limit professional office businesses to second floor spaces in the village business district, restricting ground floor vacancies to retail stores only. Speakers at the first public hearing on the matter were primarily concerned about the law infringing on property owners' rights.
The law would not affect offices currently occupying ground floor spaces.
Although the legislation fails to identify specific streets, Mayor Mark Epley said the board is focusing on Main Street and Jobs Lane.
At the hearing, Bob Schepps, President of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, said that his board of commerce believes the trustees should immediately enact a six-month moratorium to halt any more landlords from filling their ground floor vacancies with office businesses, such as real estate or mortgage companies.
Schepps said that there were two critical parcels on Main Street that are in negotiations to switch from retail to non- retail and 13 other parcels that have the "potential" to see a similar fate.
Opposed to a moratorium, Epley said, "I feel like we're moving forward with this at a fairly rapid pace." The trustees intend to have the issue settled by the summer.
Charles Voorhis conducted a survey of Jobs Lane and Main Street to evaluate current uses.
The survey "found that about 10% of the space on a store by store basis is currently an office; while 5% is vacant," he said, indicating a potential for more offices to fill the ground floor vacancies.
"The synergy of businesses in the village business district that really relies on the street and the sidewalk setting is a huge opportunity that should not be lost. The foot traffic is very important," Voorhis concluded.
Village Zoning Board of Appeals member Rob Devinney, who is running for trustee on the Heritage Party ticket, said the board is taking the wrong approach to this issue.
"If the bodies aren't downtown, should we be blaming real estate companies and mortgage companies or should we be looking at ourselves a little more?" he said.
The problem is with the entrance to the village itself, which has grown unsightly over the years, Devinney argued.
"Maybe the people aren't getting to the village, is my point. Maybe what we're doing is treating symptoms and not the source of the problems," he said.
"No more mortgage companies downtown, no more real estate companies," he continued. "Is it possible that by saying this we have franchised the ones that are already there?" Passage of this law might keep the current ground floor office businesses in their locations permanently as the value of the spaces increase due to their rarity. By maintaining the existing law he argued, the board might see these companies eventually disappear.
Peter Terrino, co-owner of a commercial building on Windmill Lane, said the law would "adversely affect property values and that it is arbitrary, capricious, and therefore unconstitutional. I believe that the law will place an undue burden on property owners in that they may only lease their first floor space to retail stores," he said.
Retail businesses turn over faster than office businesses, making landlords more vulnerable to breaches in their leases. The latter are also "more likely to afford high rents in the village business district," he said.
"The critical issue is parking, parking, parking," Tim Behringer stated, adding later, "If we can't get the people into the village and get them to stay here then what good is retail? We need the parking."
Ellen Paster, a landlord and shopkeeper in the village, was the only person who spoke in favor of the law, saying it would "benefit the entire community."
"The purpose of the law ultimately will benefit the entire community. I think we all want to have higher property values," she said. "I think ultimately we're looking very short term when we think about letting things just go as they are and allowing big corporations that can come in and put offices on our ground floors and pay the highest amount of rent possible."
But the choice of whom to accept as a tenant belongs to the property owner, said Ron Forman, a landlord of a location on Hampton Road. The store was originally occupied by Deerfield Clothing and Supply Company but has since been leased by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Company. "Retail is an evolutionary process," he said. "Trends come, trends go. We're in a trend now."
Forman's building sat empty for a year while he waited for an eligible retail business to rent the space, he recalled. "That's a year's income that I didn't receive. I was without income. That's reality."
He reluctantly rented his space to Wells Fargo having hoped to preserve the district's retail economy, but "It's a property right that I don't want stolen from me," he said.
The board agreed to leave the public hearing open for those who might not have been able to attend last Thursday's hearing in observance of Passover. The law will be discussed again at the next trustee work session next Wednesday at 5 p.m.