The Southampton Town Board and the town’s Planning Department took flak from Tuckahoe residents on Tuesday night when the board, as part of a last-minute addition to its agenda, approved the scoping document for the proposed Tuckahoe Center shopping complex.
Residents blasted board members for proposing that the document—which serves as a checklist for the developers’ planning consultants to craft a future impact study, highlighting concerns that must be addressed—be accepted just hours before the vote was held, leaving little to no time for residents to review the final proposed version and to offer opinions to board members.
Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins advised the board that failing to approve the document prepared by the town on Tuesday would automatically make a draft submitted by the developer’s consultants—a version that does not include additional demands added by town planning staff following public hearings in the fall—the official scoping document.
Mr. Collins later acknowledged that the last-minute release of the document was due to an error made by his office. He explained that he thought that the document had been sent to Town Board members on Friday, January 18, and did not realize it had not been forwarded until Tuesday morning.
After allowing residents to meet in private with Mr. Collins on Tuesday evening to go over the document and make several additions to its demands, the board unanimously approved it. The document will now be given to the developers to be used as guidelines for the preparation of an environmental impact statement, an exhaustive examination and assessment of the potential impacts of the project on the surrounding area and community.
Still, the concession to the residents’ concerns and assurances that there would be many opportunities to raise additional issues down the road did little to quiet the criticism for the short notice of the Town Board’s action.
“I was kind of appalled to find out this was on the agenda for adoption without any notice to the community,” said Susan Van Olst, one of a group of Tuckahoe residents who have led a strident opposition to the plans for a King Kullen supermarket and several accompanying retail stores along County Road 39.
Opponents submitted a 14-page list of potential impacts from the project that they see as critical to the upcoming review—a list they expected to be included in the scoping document when it was presented by the town for approval.
“Something of this importance and its ... repercussions, long-term, deserves a lot more consideration on your part,” she added. “Unless you sat with this document for hours and really considered whether this included everything we need to know about this mega-project ... you should not do this tonight.”
It took town planners more than a month to prepare the scoping document following the last public hearing on the matter, because the town allowed a 30-day period for the submission of written comments—like the list submitted by the Tuckahoe residents. The document incorporates dozens of recommendations from the public that were brought up during two scoping sessions. The Planning Department then sent the document to a development consulting firm for review and to allow the firm to make its own suggestions before finalizing the version considered on Tuesday.
Despite the short notice, board members reviewed the document and had some amendments to propose before its adoption. Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera asked that the document make it clear that the environmental impact statement consider the potential impacts of the proposed shopping center in light of the final recommendations of a several year long study that is focusing on the County Road 39 corridor and is not due to be completed until this spring.
“I believe that having that study completed was critical to capturing the real context of this project,” she said. “I want it made clear that the applicant will have to address the study as adopted.”
Ms. Scalera also asked that separate traffic studies be completed to address each of the Tuckahoe Center’s proposed uses—retail, grocery and a bank—in forecasting how many cars would likely visit the property each day.
Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming asked Mr. Collins to make sure that the scoping document notes that the potential impacts of the project are looked at in the context of a grocery store proposal still pending on the eastern end of Southampton Village. She also alluded to concerns about the Tuckahoe Center’s impact on the future of other properties along County Road 39, and the desire to ensure that one approval would not lead to others that fall outside the realm envisioned for the stretch of commercial land in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.