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Feb 17, 2015 1:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Supporters, Opponents Sound Off On Proposed Benefits Of East Quogue Golf Course Development

Feb 18, 2015 1:31 PM

Despite offering more than a dozen suggested benefits—from the installation of sidewalks and the addition of a downtown parking lot, to setting aside funds for school improvements and long-term water quality restoration projects—an ambitious application that would also develop the largest remaining tract of open and unpreserved land on the East End continues to divide the community.

Last month, representatives of the Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, the developers behind The Hills at Southampton, refiled an application seeking permission from Southampton Town to build 118 residences and an 18-hole golf course on 168 acres in East Quogue, while also preserving 426 acres. The tweaked document seeks a mixed-use planned development district, a special zoning designation that would allow a higher concentration of development on the 168 acres in exchange for agreeing to buy and preserve two other properties, plus about half of a third. It also pitches 15 community benefits—a decrease from the 19 proposed with the original application—based on feedback and the desires of town officials and hamlet residents.

Under the town’s revised PDD law, developers must offer multiple community benefits to help justify a requested change of zoning.

The 15 benefits now listed have an estimated combined value of $3.4 million for the first year, and $10 million a year after that moving forward, according to the firm. They include: providing enhanced wastewater treatment facilities, where feasible, for The Hills property; setting aside money earmarked for the research of high-tech septic systems to be utilized by the town; and providing watershed improvements, such as the installation of permeable barriers that are supposed to filter nitrates and other pollutants from groundwater, and which would benefit both Weesuck Creek and the western portion of Shinnecock Bay.

Additionally, the company is offering to provide more public parking off Main Street in East Quogue, to donate an acre of land to the East Quogue School District and also gift the district some $40,000 to be put toward field and school improvements, and to restore habitats on three of the four disturbed properties that it will eventually own if the application is approved by the Southampton Town Board.

Other benefits include preserving the following properties as open space: 62 acres of nearby land, known as the Kracke property, that could otherwise accommodate up to 13 new homes; a 101-acre parcel, called the Parlato property, that could house up to 24 single-family homes; and the 87-acre Hills North property that sits north of the proposed development and north of Sunrise Highway.

Still, some hamlet residents, and critics of the development, insist that many of the suggested benefits—the water quality-related items in particular—should not be counted as the kind of public benefits mandated by PDD guidelines, as they would not be needed in the first place if all the land were to be protected instead of developed.

Earlier this month, the Town Board agreed to begin the State Environmental Quality Review process on the application and, once that is complete, the first round of public hearings will be scheduled.

East Quogue resident Ron Kass, president of the Citizens for Clean Drinking Water, Clean Air and Clean Bays, argues that the setting aside of funding for advanced wastewater systems and watershed improvements to Weesuck Creek, the restoration of habitats, as well as the dedication of land to the Suffolk County Water Authority for a new well field, would not be necessary if The Hills application is rejected.

Attorney Carolyn Zenk of Hampton Bays, a former Town Board member and vice president of the Citizens for Clean Drinking Water, Clean Air and Clean Bays, agreed that the donation of land for a well field should not be counted as a benefit, since the developers will be damaging an existing one.

“Their project will destroy an existing public well field … and cause 180 million gallons of tainted water to flow to residents,” wrote Ms. Zenk, who is being paid by group members to represent them, in a press release issued on Monday. “Overall, this deal is a loss to the public.”

At the same time, Mr. Kass, in an email, wrote that the donation of $50,000 to the town to study high-tech septic systems, as well as setting aside $30,000 to restore nearby Shinnecock Bay by installing new oyster beds and eelgrass, do qualify as benefits.

Joan Hughes, president of the East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee, agrees that the 15 listed benefits do not justify the placement of a high-density residential development within a state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Area, on land that remains the top priority for acquisition and preservation among local environmentalists.

The main property, they note, is the largest of its kind within the Pine Barrens that is still in private hands; earlier attempts by Southampton Town to acquire the land were unsuccessful, as its former owners had rejected an earlier undisclosed offer from the town. Officials familiar with those negotiations have speculated that the poor condition of the land—a significant portion of it has been illegally disturbed over the years and now features ATV trails and even a paintball obstacle course—prevented the town from making an offer that could have been accepted.

“I very strongly feel that it shouldn’t be developed because of its importance to the environment,” Ms. Hughes added.

But others in East Quogue, like Cathy Seeliger, owner of Roses and Rice on Main Street, think that Discovery Land officials have done their homework and due diligence in coming up with a proposal that benefits the hamlet. Unlike most opponents, Ms. Seeliger said she is of the position that the company’s plans should improve the condition of local waterways, pointing to the addition of the permeable barriers and other plans to restore the bay.

“I don’t believe they’re going to pollute the water,” Ms. Seeliger said. “This is not a haphazard thing. They’ve done their research. Ultimately, I think they will be helping the bays rather than hindering them.”

In particular, Ms. Seeliger, who has owned her shop for 20 years, said she thinks the company’s plans to offer expanded public parking near the Main Street shops is another solid benefit. “As a Main Street merchant, I can say that East Quogue is in pretty bad shape,” she said. “There’s a ton of empty storefronts, and worst of all is the parking.

“If you can’t find parking, you just keep on going to the next town,” she continued. “It’s a sad place to be right now, and we need something. I think [The Hills] should be welcomed.”

Other hamlet residents, like Maria Daddino, who writes the East Quogue column for The Press, said she thinks the application currently on the table is a good compromise between those who want to preserve the property and those who wish to see it developed. “Less than half [of the all four properties] is being developed—I think that’s fair,” Ms. Daddino said. “If it can’t be [preserved], then you have to work with the developer to make sure it’s done properly.”

Mark Hissey, senior vice president of Discovery Land, explained that some of the benefits on the application that was deemed incomplete by the Town Board in November 2014 were removed after town officials said they did not qualify as such. The old list included the estimated $4.4 million in annual revenue that the The Hills development would generate in taxes, with much of that benefiting the East Quogue School District. Also removed from the list were the proposed linings that would be installed in certain sections of the golf course to contain the flow of pollutants and fertilizers; the developers, however, still intend to install the barriers.

While the development’s projected tax revenue is no longer listed as a benefit, the fact that the 118 luxury homes would be marketed to second- and third-home owners still made the cut, with the positive being that the units are not expected to add any students to the school district.

Still, Ron Nappi, an East Quogue resident and a member of Citizens for Clean Drinking Water, Clean Air and Clean Bays, is insisting that a covenant that prohibits those who buy the units from sending their children to local schools cannot be guaranteed by Discovery Land. And even if such a guarantee could be made, Mr. Nappi says, such a large development will create new jobs—the company says the project could generate up to 150 new employment opportunities—that could attract more families to East Quogue, eventually resulting in increased enrollment.

Mr. Nappi estimated in an email that if 100 of those jobs were filled by people who moved to the hamlet, about 26 students would be added to the district. “You can play with these figures, but the bottom line is that ‘The Hills’ will affect enrollment,” Mr. Nappi wrote.

Ms. Zenk echoed that sentiment, citing the U.S. Housing and Urban Development policy that prohibits a developer from marketing homes based on familial status. “I don’t believe the town can contract with private developers to discriminate against families with children,” she wrote. “This likely won’t hold up in court.”

Mr. Hissey explained that the covenant will not allow the homes to be listed as primary residences, which, in theory, should prohibit the families who buy them from enrolling their children in the school system.

Regarding the environmental concerns of opponents, Mr. Hissey charges that the water quality of Weesuck Creek is already poor, and that the installation of a permeable reactive barrier to filter nitrogen from groundwater is needed for the hamlet—regardless of whether or not The Hills eventually earns Town Board approval.

“If the town approves, we’ll figure out where to put that,” Mr. Hissey said of the barrier, which will also be used as part of the recently approved Canoe Place Inn PDD in Hampton Bays.

“The bottom line is Weesuck Creek area water quality isn’t good, and we want to make sure we do something down there, especially because this is the water that’s coming off our property,” he added. “At the very least, we need to do something on Weesuck Creek.”

Additionally, he explained that his company wants to dedicate $1.4 million to the town for wastewater improvements, money that could go toward the construction of an actual treatment facility or the creation of a subsidy account for homeowners who are interested in upgrading their cesspool systems.

Nothing is set in stone, Mr. Hissey added, explaining that the decision will fall to the town.

“We are up for whatever suggestions they come up with and what they think will bring the most bang from our buck for the bay,” he said.

Still, many in the East Quogue community said they will continue to push for the rejection of the PDD, insisting that the level of development proposed will ultimately further impair already damaged waterways.

“It’s not a sufficient solution against the amount of pollution they’d be causing,” Ms. Hughes said.

In spite of their differences, one benefit that most residents can agree on is the need for additional public parking near and along Main Street.

Currently, Mr. Hissey said the primary option would be for Discovery Land to buy a small vacant lot behind New Moon Cafe on Main Street from Ron Campsey, the owner of the restaurant. That lot, Mr. Hissey estimated, could accommodate up to 30 spaces if it can be purchased or leased from Mr. Campsey, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

“The only really valid [benefit] was a parking lot,” Ms. Hughes said. “That would be a real community benefit. East Quogue needs a parking lot. Everything else I don’t think counts.”

Ms. Zenk agreed, stating: “When you blow away the dust, there isn’t much left in terms of public benefits.”

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Wow...New sidewalks AND a gigantic new downtown parking lot! Thank goodness for progress and developers.
By Non-Political (29), Hampton Bays on Feb 20, 15 8:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Having read the SH Press article a number of items jump out at me.

The small lot owned by New Moon Cafe owner Ron Campsey is littered with unregistered vehicles and debris and looks like a junkyard. It is and has been an eyesore for many years......why has SHT Code Enforcement not made Mr Campsey clean it up? Obviously Mr Campsey stands to benefit from "The Hills" as do other EQ business owners. How about it SHT, look into this eyesore?

In the Benefit Breakdown, how is permitting ...more
By crusader (368), East Quogue on Feb 20, 15 9:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hampton Bays, and East Quoque want no development to improve their villages. It will be interesting to see who hits bottom first.
By chief1 (2325), southampton on Feb 20, 15 9:38 AM
In the plan there is preservation of more than 400 acres of privately held land. That is at no cost to the Town's CPF or other taxpayer funds; and that's not good planning?
By Lion (219), southampton on Feb 20, 15 6:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
Mr. Nappi, opposing the project, says that if it brings jobs, it will bring additional school enrollment. That may be, but it's not a bad thing. More kids in school because of more employment is a lot different from more kids in school just because there's more housing for them.

Ms. Zenk, also in opposition, says you can't market housing restricted to families without children, that it won't hold up in court, and she's right.

Mr. Hissey, for the developer, says they're not going ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1740), Quiogue on Feb 24, 15 12:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
An illegal covenant like not allowing kids to go to school is lllegal! If you pay school taxes you can't stop kids from going to school. Have you ever heard of taxation without representation. That being said I doubt people from other areas will send their kids to school here.
By chief1 (2325), southampton on Feb 27, 15 9:42 PM
Leave no postage stamp undeveloped...
By Mr. Z (9458), North Sea on Feb 27, 15 9:56 PM
Hot Tubs, Saunas, massage chairs, outdoor experience