Tuckahoe Main Street, or I’ve Got the PDD Blues Again

Last night I spent an instructive couple of hours listening to the developers of the so-called “Tuckahoe Main Street” explain their proposal (basically a strip mall with some apartments, greenery and sidewalk cafes thrown in as window dressing), as well as the responses of quite a few Tuckahoe residents. The reason I found it so instructive was that it helped clarify my thinking on the subject of Planned Development Districts or PDDs. Until now, I had  what could best be called a “feeling” that PDDs were generally not as beneficial to the community as they were intended to be. Now, I understand why I had that feeling, and that it’s right on the money.

Here’s some background for those of you who don’t follow the “planning” game as it’s played in the Town of Southampton, NY. PDDs, are usually proposed by developers who want to use a parcel, or parcels, of land in a way that does not conform to the current zoning of those parcels. Rather than ask the Town to change the zoning outright, which would be a difficult process, with little chance of success, the developer can propose that the Town create an “overlay district”  or PDD, that would not change, but rather overlay the existing zoning. A PDD applies only to the parcels in question, and, theoretically at least, does not create a precedent that might lead other land owners in the area to also demand a rezoning of their properties. In return for granting the PDD, the Town is supposed to receive some “community benefits or amenities” from the developer, perhaps some parkland, open space or the inclusion of some affordable housing on the site. Granted, this is a simplistic explanation, but I think it covers the most important ground.

The 12.4-acre site of the Tuckahoe project consists of 4.4 acres currently zoned for residential development, and an eight-acre parcel zoned for highway business. Neither of these zoning classifications allow for the type of mixed-use development being proposed. Consequently, the developer has asked the Town Board to consider creating a MUPDD, (Mixed-Use Planned Development District) in which such a development would be permitted.

Tuckahoe Main Street Plan

The developer's preliminary plan for the Tuckahoe Main Street PDD

That’s the background. Now back to our story.

Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to attend a training session at the Project for Public Spaces in New York City. I owe my good fortune to the community group Save Sag Harbor for sponsoring my attendance there. The staff at PPS specialize in something they call placemaking, which is basically the art and science of creating livable places where people enjoy being. As Main Streets are very important places in communities, we spent a good deal of time in our training learning what makes a good Main Street work as an integral part of a thriving community.  Of course this varies from town to town, but it always starts with a sense of place. The Main Street of a town or village has to reflect the history, values and aspirations of the community it serves.

When confronted with an unsuccessful place, say a dying Main Street in an aging town fighting against a proliferation of strip malls and suburban sprawl, the staff at PPS always starts by asking the community to identify what it is that is important, meaningful and useful in their town. They ask, “what works? What doesn’t? What’s worth preserving? What needs to be changed? What’s missing?” Only the people who live in a place can answer these question. Planners, no matter how skilled, cannot. Armed with this information, PPS can then make suggestions as to how to supplement and modify the working parts, integrating everything into a seamless whole that then has a chance of becoming a successful “place.”

Given the importance of the Main Street to any community, I could not help but apply some of my training in analyzing the “Tuckahoe Main Street” PDD. Three things were immediately obvious. First, this is not a Main Street in any traditional sense of the word. Second, the entire plan was conceived by the developer’s planning team without significant community input. Third, this was not a livable place where people would enjoy spending time. How could it be when the dominant feature was a 474-space parking lot?

I could go on for many paragraphs criticizing particulars of the design, but there is no point. The entire plan is ill conceived and should not go forward. But, I do not blame the developers for this. They are just doing what developers do. No, I fault our Town government for creating the tool that makes the kind of thinking behind Tuckahoe Main Street possible: the PDD.

Read the language in the section of the Town Code dealing with PDDs, and you would think this legislation is so pure and beneficial that only good could possibly come of it. Unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case. The reason why PDDs don’t work is simple: they don’t start with the community. Rather, they are a tool used by developers to be able to build what they want by simply making a small sacrifice in terms of providing some “community benefit or amenity.” The benefit extracted by the Town is supposed to ameliorate the damage to the community caused by the creation of the PDD, but rarely turns out to be more than a bandaid slapped on a gaping wound.

PDD’s don’t work because they ignore the basic tenets of good placemaking. To reiterate: first, find out what the community values, needs and aspires to, then preserve what is good in the community. Next, find ways to incentivize the development of any missing and needed features. And finally tie it all together with good planning to create a unified, livable, workable community, where people will want to be. The way PDDs work now, is to start with some “concept” put together by a developer that may or may not have any relation to anything the community actually needs. Then this “concept” is massaged into something that passes as “beneficial” in some way or another, and foisted on the community, often exacerbating existing problems. This is “planning” stood on its head. It starts with the result, and then tries to twist it to fit the need.

That’s what’s happening in Tuckahoe right now, and it’s a sham and a crime. The people of Tuckahoe deserve a say in whether their “Main Street” serves them or the needs of some developers and out-of-town merchants. This PDD should be denied. Then the entire PDD process should be revised to make it more responsive to the needs of the communities in which future PDDs are proposed.

What do you think? Leave a comment below telling me why I’m wrong or right, or how my ideas on this subject can be improved.

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13 Responses to Tuckahoe Main Street, or I’ve Got the PDD Blues Again

  1. Ken Dorph says:

    Eric,

    You have really hit the nail on the head. This is dead to the community and its needs.

    I had vaguely heard of the Tuckahoe “Main Street” (Ha!) but had not seen the plans. Omigod! It looks like a Giant Parking Lot with a few box stores thrown in the middle. The pathetic greenspace sequestered at the center reminds me of exactly the kind of faux malls you see in Florida and Hawaii that are ultimately so depressing. Everything about this is wrong, including what it will do to the remaining genuine Main Streets we DO have, and to traffic and congestion.

    Please send your blog comments on to the Town Board and to the Southampton Press. How do we stop this mess?

    Thanks for paying attention.

    Sincerely,

    Ken

  2. Dorothy Reilly says:

    Eric – You know you are always right!!!!! And amazingly thoughtful.

    As you point out, until the community is served first and foremost the PDD is a tool for destruction.

    Thanks for taking the time to articulate your observations on this most important matter.

  3. Eric, I too attended that meeting and came away with the exact same conclusion: For a pdd to truly have a “community benefit” it must be initiated by the community. Instead, what you have with this ludicrously titled “Tuckahoe Main Street” project is a development that has only paid lip service to community members AFTER three years of planning and development. Both Bridget Fleming and Jim Malone tried to pass this project off as being in the “very early stages”. This is simply not true. Additionally, given my understanding of a pdd, which has been succinctly and perfectly described by you, this proposal, lacking in any community benefit at all, should have been stopped dead in its tracks from the beginning – instead, the board voted to allow consideration.

    As I said at the meeting and I will keep saying to anyone and everyone who will listen, we must separate needs from wants. Many want a new grocery store, no one needs one, especially when it comes with an entire development like this monstrosity. A 474 space parking lot is good for the community? HAH! The runoff alone is enough of an environmental hazard as to negate any presumed benefit.

    This is not good for the community. I live just a couple hundred yards away from the proposed site and it sickens me to think that this is even being considered. It is time for the Town Board to decide whether they will listen to community members or developers. As someone said at the meeting, each of us who stood up and spoke against the proposal is a vote – we can’t let them forget that.

    Thank you for spelling this out so clearly. I will be passing this link on.

    Best,

    David D’Agostino

  4. Irene Donohue says:

    Hi Eric, I agree with everything you have written. And I agree the PDD concept needs to be re-thought. We are an island and every home, business district, road, school, hospital,etc, must fit and complement the other. We have very little “buildable” land left.

    Maybe it is time to really think about what should be important to our community – our entire community including the Shinnecock Nation. Maybe we should be reflecting on our area’s history and the long relationship we have had with the land and water (farming, fishing). What we are leaving for future generations? Is this the best we can do?

    Thanks for your very thoughtful and intelligent piece.
    Irene

  5. Priscilla Ciccariello says:

    Tuckahoe is facing a difficult battle to retain the character and liveable quality of their neighborhood. Once a PDD gets the go-ahead of the Town, the input of the neighborhood must compete with the developers [often unfulfilled]promises. Your comments clearly explain the problems with PDDs and MFPRDs.
    The basic problem is these plans originate with the developer and are fashioned to provide the highest density in order to provide the greatest profit to the developer. The development is not designed to provide less density, or to lend character and sense of community but to overlay the developers plans on the the current resident’s neighborhood. Main Streets should grow out of the convenience to the residents in access to homes and emphasis on what has grown “organically” from the lives of the people who live there.
    You can get a good clue to the developer’s goal of the use of the PDD and the MFPRD to provide “higher denisty” by a look at the definition of the Southampton Town Code: 330-17, A.(2) Purpose. “It is the specific purpose and intent of the Multifamily Planned Residential Development (MFPRD) District to provide the opportunity within the Town of Southampton for the development on a planned basis of higher-density housing on sites located in existing single-family neighborhoods.”
    Let this be a warning to all who try to modify these proposed PDDs or MFPRDs that no amount of compromise or tinkering will remove the basic goal of the concept. Denisty not allowed by current zoning is the ultimate goal of PDD and MFPRD. This is contrary to the original intent of the Town Master Plan and of the role of the Town zoning laws which should serve to provide a sense of liveable communities – the right of residents under their current historic and protective zoning.

  6. Mike Anthony says:

    Eric,

    You couldn’t be more on target, Eric. You bring to bear on the conversation insights from real community planners (Project for Public Spaces) and your own efforts to confront the current framing for faux planned development in Southampton Town. Your review and analysis should be read by every CAC and civic in Southampton Town. It is far past time for concerned citizens of Southampton Town to wake up to the ecological threat posed by overdevelopment. Thanks for taking the time to attend the meeting and applying your knowledge, and sharing this with us.

  7. Eric,
    Very good job articulating our frustration! We have been asking for sometime for the definition of the PDD to be narowed and publc benefit quantified. The goal of the developer is to increase density/profit and the community is just a hinderance to that goal. If the density was not increased by 3 fold+ then we might be able to work toward a benefit. There is rarely a benefit to the community, if ever a quantifiable one. The Town Board is allowing spot zoning and negating the Towns Master Plan to our detriment, why? What is in it for them when pretty much anyone who is paying attention is aganist PDDS as a rule? Can we effect a change? My hope is in Anna….can she deliver?
    Suzanne T Collins
    past president Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Assoc

  8. bonnie goebert says:

    Eric -
    Thank you for your spot-on analysis of PDD as nothing more than a spot zoning tool, and thank you for attending our meeting last Tuesday. Our Town Board has to wake up to the extreme opposition that this project is eliciting among tax-paying, voting, year-round residents. I have felt this way about PDD’s since Jeff Murphree first brought them to our CAC’s attention over 3 years ago when he wanted to allow Fairfield Commons to build 53 condominiums on Tuckahoe Lane (much like Courtyards on Major’s Path, another PDD). To me, PDD stands for “Pact with De Devil.” Even though it is written that no precedent shall be set, we can well imagine an onslaught of PDD requests as developers set their eyes on moving further and further South toward the Atlantic.
    Thanks again,
    Bonnie Co-Chair Tuckahoe, Shinnecock Hills, Southampton CAC

    atlantic

  9. Frances Genovese says:

    Eric: Thank you so much for this thoughtful, informative article. I am circulating it widely. Did you come to the Tuckahoe CAC meeting last week where Morrow was present but stubbornly refused to speak or answer questions? We fully intend to fight this latest MUPDD application to extinction, but many of us have come to the realization that the PDD virus cannot be fought application by application, but must be opposed as the enabling tool it has become in the hands of the so-called “planning” department, and J. Murphree specifically.

    • Saltbox says:

      Yes, Frances, I was at the Tuckahoe CAC meeting, and heard your very apropos (and funny) comments on Mr. Morrow’s other “underutilized” piece of property. Like you, I too think that Mr. Morrow’s Sagaponack neighborhood should not be denied the opportunity to reap the many community benefits that would accrue from having a “Main Street” type strip mall down by the beach.

      That said, I hasten to agree with your comment that the main issue is the misuse of PDDs. And that, unfortunately, is a problem not limited to this particular situation. However, if we can get the Town to reform the PDD process, we will also, as a matter of course, stop this inappropriate development in Tuckahoe.

  10. Frances Genovese says:

    Apropos Tuckahoe Main Street and other PDD clones, everyone should be on the alert for the results of the “County Road 39 Study” with its arbitrarily drawn boundaries. This study will seek to add impetus to PDD & MUPDD developments by
    revising the limited uses recommended for highway development (and non-development) in the 1999 Master Plan. We have long suspected that this study came into being, with its “smart growth” hype just to smooth the way for the Tuckahoe/King Kullen development. Of special interest are the claims to have polled “the community” (where/when/documented how) as to their “wants” and the unsubstantiated mantra: “everyone wants another grocery store(sic). Please attend the Public Hearings on this fiasco and ask hard questions.

  11. Herlinda says:

    Hey, i’ve been reading this blog for a while and have a question, maybe you can help… it’s how do i add your feed to my rss reader as i want to follow you. Many thanks. My best regards, Herlinda.

    • Saltbox says:

      Well, first let me say that I haven’t been writing very much lately, so it’s an act of faith if you subscribe to Sag Hampton, but I’m happy to have you aboard, so to speak.

      Secondly, I’ve restored the subscription widget near the top of the right-hand column on every blog page. Thanks for pointing out that it was gone. It, and a lot of other stuff disappeared after the last WordPress upgrade. I’ve been gradually trying to put it all back together. Anyway, you can now subscribe either to the RSS feed or by e-mail, just by clicking on the links provided.

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