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Proposed Zoning Law Puts Chains in Crosshairs

State law would permit towns and villages to ban chain stores and restaurants from historic areas.

New York State Assemblyman has drafted state legislation to allow municipalities with rich histories such as Southampton to keep chain stores and fast-food restaurants out of town, and he presented it Friday to the .

Thiele said that, at best, existing state law is unclear on whether villages and towns can pass their own laws regulating chains. His bill aims to give governing boards the confidence to move forward to protect their hometowns' historic character. "This is not a state mandate," he explained to Town Board members during a work session. "This is a state authorization that would allow you to expand your authority."

Thiele's bill hinges on the preservation of historic character.

“If you look across the country, there are a number of places that directly regulated formula stores," he explained. "Those who have been successful in regulating formula stores are typically able to show a history of trying to protect the rural character, and the aesthetics, etc., of their particular community.”

He said applying the law to a historic district, rather than a highway, will be easier to defend.

But the laws that have "gone down in flames" in court were justified by a desire to help local businesses against outsiders, Thiele said. “That’s not a legitimate public purpose. You can’t regulate economic competition. Economic competition is a no-no for zoning — you don’t have the authority to do that.”

Thiele, who is also the village attorney for Sag Harbor, said chain stores were front and center when the village revised its downtown zoning a couple years ago, but the Village Board was uncertain whether it had the authority to do anything about them.

“There were those that wanted to directly regulate formula stores — regulate chain stores — and the village looked at that and did not feel comfortable at the time that there was sufficient state legislation that would allow them to do that," he said. "It has also come up recently out of East Hampton in Montauk.”

“In particular, fast food restaurants have been an issue of concern in the town of Southampton,” he added.

A misconception about the legislation is that it is an outright prohibition of chain stores, according to Thiele, but he emphasized it is simply an option, and not mandatory.

Ross MacKae April 23, 2012 at 01:18 PM
One might remember recent history. You can call it what ever you want, but what ever they pass will be to protect locally owned businesses like the Golden Pear. I use them not to single them out or because they are any different but because of their blocking Starbucks from having a store in the village claiming it was unfair competition. History speaks volumes.
bchbum11968 April 24, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Restraint of trade??
Hazel Wilkonson the First April 24, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Chain stores drive down wages and drive out local businesses. This is not restraint of trade, this is giving the little guy a chance. Not to mention that chain stores are mostly ugly and have no place in a "resort" community.
Ralebird April 24, 2012 at 09:56 PM
The only way chain stores can drive out local business is if the local businesses are run poorly. We don't need to protect professionally operated local business and I don't want to protect the bad ones. Chains offer to pay the lowest they can get away with, that doesn't prevent the local businesses from paying more to keep good employees who will keep those businesses prospering. Think pizza! Little Caesar's? Pizza Hut? Domino's? Nope, nope, and nope - the locals all do it better!
Ross MacKae April 25, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Hazel, that is simply not true. Golden Pear made that argument to block Starbucks from coming into the village core. The reality is Starbucks paid a decent wage, provided health care for PART time employees, and has a superior product than that of the local DELI (Not a coffee company). It is RESTRAINT of Trade. And the closure of Starbucks in Southampton cost jobs of many Southamptonites.

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