Photo Courtesy Westhampton LLC
The intersection of Libbie and Grove avenues has all the convenience of an upscale mall and the charm of an English hamlet. It’s a transformation that has taken place over time. Ames Russell, peering up from a folder full of maps and zoning regulations at a Starbucks table, notes the men’s clothing store next door is a former strip club.
But a plan to turn the recently-closed Westhampton Theater into a three-story mixed-use condo, retail and dining development could upset the balance here, according to Russell and other skeptics, among them 800 petition-signers and a “Save Libbie and Grove” Facebook group.
Developers Jason Guillot, a first vice president at Cushman & Wakefield/Thalhimer, and theater building owner, Steve Cametas, are asking the city for a special use permit to exceed the current two-story height limits. Current plans call for two, three-story buildings. The original proposal called for four stories. The developers also cut the overall square footage from 85,000 to 49,800. At a community meeting in late May that drew 200 people, the changes were unveiled to both praise and criticism.
Russell, who moved here 20 years ago, is among those still opposed. “If the city were to approve this new revised plan, they would still be approving a structure that is out of character and out of scale with the neighborhood,” he says.
Not so, says Page George, president of the Westhampton Merchants Association. The group supports the project, she says, the benefits of which far outweigh critics’ concerns over height, as well as parking.
“It’s got to be viable for [the developers],” she says. “If you can’t add space and it’s not viable for them, then the theater sits there and becomes an abandoned theater. Is that what the neighborhood wants? … Or do they want the high-end retailers that are going to come?”
The matter is scheduled to come before the planning commission on July 18, and will head from there to City Council as early as July 25. The neighborhood’s councilman, Jon Baliles, has so far remained neutral, though he says that with the changes, “it’s a better project than it was before.”