Editorial: Measuring the impact of two teardowns

Here are two words North Fork residents will need to get used to hearing in the near future: teardown and rebuild. 

Take this week’s newspaper, for example. We have a story about a Southold Town Planning Board hearing on the reconstruction of a strip of stores on Main Road in Cutchogue. And there’s also a piece about a corporation’s plans to double the size of a bungalow adjacent to Kenney’s Beach in Southold and raise it on pilings, a proposal that failed to gain support from the town’s Board of Trustees.

What’s distinctly different about these two proposals is how the public has reacted to them.

About a dozen residents spoke out against the Cutchogue proposal, raising concerns about traffic safety, design and how it would impact the “character of the community.”

In Southold, aside from a neighbor and an attorney representing several other nearby residents, no one spoke out against the residential proposal when it came before the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this year.

But which is the greater threat to the “character” of this town? Allowing a small commercial property to expand lot coverage from 12,000 to 15,000 square feet or setting a precedent that could encourage deep-pocketed waterfront property owners to dot our shorelines with giant raised houses that obliterate our scenic vistas?

To hear and read the comments — and view materials passed out — about this week’s hearing on the Terp shopping center proposal, you’d think a Walmart Supercenter was being constructed at the site of a centuries-old historic barn. It’s going to greatly alter Cutchogue, people won’t be safe and the building will be ugly are all arguments we heard and read this week.

The reality is, nobody views that property and sees just the one small building that will double in size. It’s adjacent to another building owned by the same family that is four times the size of the structure that will be torn down and rebuilt. And, with all due respect to the folks who designed the smaller building, a thing of beauty it is not. This idea that the new design would fit in any less with the character of the community is a bit overstated.

It’s also difficult to say how much impact such a proposal would have on traffic and parking conditions in the surrounding area when the types of businesses that would move into the new storefronts are unknown.

Of course we don’t wish to diminish the specific concerns of the Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild, which would be directly impacted by construction.

And this editorial shouldn’t be viewed as an endorsement of the Cutchogue proposal, but rather a plea that we not lose sight of the greater threat to the character of our community: nameless, faceless “corporations” willing to spend big money to convert our dunes into mega-houses. As we continue to hear the words teardown and rebuild, it’s this type of development that will become more prevalent and costlier to prevent.

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