Dr. Chris Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook-Southampton and arguably one of the region’s most respected water quality experts, shared for the first time this week that he thinks that a luxury golf course resort community proposed in East Quogue would add more nitrogen to the environment than if the developer was required to adhere to the site’s current zoning.
Dr. Gobler did not say that he opposes the project being pitched by the Discovery Land Company of Arizona, an 118-residential unit complex that would also feature an 18-hole golf course that would require Southampton Town Board approval of special zoning called a planned development district, or PDD. But he made it clear that, as currently pitched, the development would contribute more nitrogen to already compromised groundwater in the hamlet.
“This project will deliver more nitrogen to our coastal waters than it does presently, and more than it would compared to an as-of-right [alternative],” Dr. Gobler said as he addressed the Town Board on Tuesday night at the third of four public hearings scheduled to discuss the draft environmental impact statement for the project, called “The Hills at Southampton.”
The East Quogue resident was the first person to walk up to the podium at Tuesday’s hearing, which was held, like the previous two, inside the East Quogue Elementary School, though this one attracted only about 150 people—fewer than the first two hearings.
Dr. Gobler explained that he had been studying the massive document, which is 473 pages, ever since the first version was submitted to the town in December 2015; the Town Board did not approve the report until September, after it underwent multiple revisions.
Though he said he has several concerns with the document, Dr. Gobler, a professor with Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said his most prominent concern had to do with how much nitrogen the 118 residential units and golf course would add to the hamlet’s groundwater.
Presently, all of the nearly 600 acres owned by Discovery Land is 5-acre zoning, the most restrictive in the town, requiring less density than many other residential zones.
Specifically, Dr. Gobler said he found several issues in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, and various charts showing projected nitrogen leaching rates at established golf courses. He said the information suggests that nitrogen leach rates of golf courses is around 10 percent, when Dr. Gobler said he believes the rate is actually closer to 30 percent—a consensus he reached based on discussions he has had with other scientists representing Suffolk County and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“So you may hear that this project will remove more nitrogen—but data show that is not the case,” Dr. Gobler told the Town Board on Tuesday night. “I’m very happy to work with the scientists here to talk about numbers.”
Mark Hissey, a vice president of Discovery Land, said he welcomes Dr. Gobler's input and would like to sit down with him to address his concerns.
"I'm delighted that Chris wants to get involved," Mr. Hissey said on Wednesday afternoon. "We had conversations with him in the past ... I'm really looking forward to sitting around the table with him and trying to find another solution."
In previous interviews, Mr. Hissey has explained that Discovery Land plans to line both the greens and tee boxes at the golf course, and trap the water used to irrigate the course so it cannot escape the property and contribute additional nitrogen to the groundwater. He has also stated that Discovery Land would install a contained septic system for the 118 residential units.
Under current zoning, the developer would be allowed to build upward of 80 homes on the main property, each with its own antiquated cesspool system. The developer intends to transfer some of the development rights from the adjoining Parlato and Kracke properties that it owns to allow for greater density on the main property.
Discovery Land is looking to build 95 single-family homes, 13 clubhouse cabins and 10 clubhouse condominiums, all centered on 168 acres; the remaining land would be left as open space.
Also this week, two elected officials, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, stated that they oppose The Hills at Southampton proposal, stating that the development has the potential to harm the environment.
“I think the Town Board should just be rejecting this out of hand,” Mr. Thiele said when reached on Monday. “I don’t think there is any merit to it.”
He added that the application on hand is a perfect example of why the town should repeal its PDD legislation. “Property owners can initiate these kinds of applications having nothing to do with comprehensive planning or long-term planning and just their own self interest.”
Ms. Fleming, a former Town Board member who voted against the project when it was in its pre-application phase, agreed with Mr. Thiele.
“There is no reason to give away this additional density,” Ms. Fleming said this week. “I think it’s a bad deal for the town and it’s not well-suited for our community.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, board members gave priority to those who did not have the chance to speak during the first two hearings.
Cynthia McNamara, who serves as vice president of the East Quogue Board of Education, said she supports the project, though she stressed that her opinion does not reflect that of the school district. Wearing a navy blue East Quogue school sweatshirt, Ms. McNamara said she does not believe the development will add children to the school district, pointing to how Discovery Land intends to market the unit as vacation homes.
“I think they would be a really good neighbor,” she added.
The next and final public hearing on the DEIS will be held on Tuesday, February 7, at 6 p.m. at Southampton Town Hall in Southampton Village.