Hampton business leaders, neighbors clash over Al Fleury’s 94-unit apartment project

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HAMPTON – Al Fleury’s voice b 94-unit apartment building It’s been praised by business owners in downtown Hampton, but residents on Dearborn Street say it’s too big for their neighborhood.

Flurry is asking. City Zoning Board Height and density variances for a 4½-story L-shaped building with frontage on High Street beyond Old Salt and an exit and entrance to Dearborn Avenue. The development includes two other buildings, an 18-room boutique hotel on Route 1 and a cafe-style commercial space on High Street.

The project went before the Zoning Board last week, and the hearing continues until Dec. 21.

Kathy Carrier, who lives on Dearborn Avenue, said she likes the hotel and potential cafe and welcomes some new residential units to the area. However, she said 94 units is too many and will impact traffic and safety.

“I’d say at least half,” Currier said. “You’re putting in too much density.”

Currier was one of several delegates who spoke against the project at the Nov. 20 meeting. Supporters of the project joined, including Galley Hatch owner John Tinios.

Tinios said the project could bring more activity to downtown, where his family has operated the restaurant for 53 years.

“It’s a bold move, and one that I think can continue to interest the city and its growth,” Tinios said. “This is good progress.”

But not everyone believed.

“There are parts of this project that I think are great, they really are. I applaud you for trying to revitalize the Hamptons,” said Dearborn Street resident Adam Edgar. “I would like to see it. I’m not sure if that’s the case.”

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Neighbors say the project is too big for the area

Fleury wants to combine three properties he’s bought over the past few years to build the project. Those include the former Property of Webber Antiques Located at 495 Lafayette Road, 48-52 High St. and 6 Dearborn Ave.

Fleury is seeking variances from the ZBA because city zoning in that area allows only eight residential units per structure and a three-story height of 35 feet.

Most of the people who opposed the project lived on Dearborn Avenue. They argued that the increase in new traffic from large-scale development would bring new safety problems to the people living in the area.

Paul Martin said many business owners pushing for growth don’t live near downtown.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t live on Dearborn Street for the project, (and) they’re not amenable to what (residents) say,” Martin said.

Martin said he walks his dog on the street every day. He’s worried the extra traffic coming to Dearborn Avenue will make it more dangerous for him and the families there.

Priscilla McInnis, who lived on Dearborn Street for 30 years before moving to Exeter Road, said the area has many elderly residents who walk down the street. She’s also concerned about the impact of a new overpass that will send more than 90 drivers onto Dearborn Avenue.

“It’s a great project,” McInnis said. “He’s in the absolute worst position.”

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Business leaders say the project could revitalize downtown

Support for the project included Joe Higgins of The Many Business Owners. Old salt For Dean Merrill Merrill, president of Hampton, the insurance bureau’s experience on High Street, argued that a railroad plan parallel to Route 1 would indicate that the region was meant for more people.

Others who spoke in favor included those advocating for more housing in the Hamptons.

Amanda Swan, who lives on Ocean Boulevard, said she grew up in the Hamptons and wants to live here. She said she is waiting to own a home but currently rents. Finding a place to live in a city with a shortage of affordable housing is a challenge for people like herself, she says.

“That shortage makes it very difficult for people like me, college graduates, high school graduates, kids who grew up here who can’t afford to live here,” Swan said. “This project will provide housing for those people.”

Fleury said he is projecting rents in the $1,600-$1,700 range for units in his proposed building.

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Will the zoning board approve the project?

ZBA members continued Fleury’s application to the next meeting, but Zoning Board Vice Chair Erica DeVries said the relief may not be appropriate. The project achieved some of the goals of the master plan, including “diverse and affordable housing options” and “a thriving downtown area,” he said. However, she questioned whether the board would approve a building with more than 90 units in a zone that allows only eight.

“It’s not like horseshoes and grenades,” DeVries said. “That basically means we’re going to ignore that offer.”

DeVries said Fleury may consider a bond on a future Town Meeting ballot asking them to amend the zoning ordinance to allow the project.

Other elected officials say the regulations must be improved in any case to revitalize downtown.

Selectman Rusty Bridle, who represents the constituents on the planning board, said there will always be a traffic concern, but Hampton “has to do something with the downtown.”

“We always have jams. It’s the way the city is built,” Bridle said. But I think we need housing in the city? Absolutely.”

Planning Board Chair Ann Carnaby said her board will have to reexamine zoning in the downtown area at some point “either this year or next.”

Given the impact people have on city infrastructure, it’s hard to say whether the increased density in Fleury’s proposal will work in an amendment to the ordinance, she said.

“It’s not one piece on the chessboard that moves without moving everyone else,” Carnaby said.

Asked if he would issue a warrant to change the zoning, Fleury said he believes the ZBA has the ability to grant the requested variances. He believes that the property will develop on its own or not and the project he plans is the best use for the land.

“The board is there to grant variances, not to reject strong comprehensive projects that are intended to fill the requirements of the master plan,” Fleury said.

Tom Moulton, developer who He presented the same project Across the street from Fleury, he believes rezoning will be key to revitalizing downtown. In January, he proposed a 103-apartment building adjacent to Old Salt to the ZBA, but abandoned it when he realized it wouldn’t get favorable votes on the variances sought.

Moulton believes a compromise can be made between business leaders and residents. He said that density is important to financially run the project and they hope that the next zoning will facilitate convenient projects for builders who want to bring affordable housing.

“I don’t want to see 50 people holding the city hostage because of development,” Moulton said. “If the math doesn’t work, the project doesn’t work.”

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