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Dec 17, 2018 12:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton ZBA Interpretation Of Town Code Raises Concerns Among State And Town Officials

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. VALERIE GORDON
Dec 17, 2018 12:52 PM

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni may not be throwing in the towel just yet.

Following two failed pieces of legislation that, if approved, would have helped clarify a perceived ambiguity in the town’s zoning code when it comes to the definition of an accessory use, the town’s newest board member said last week that the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals decision to allow a proposed golf course to be built in East Quogue, opens the door to developers—unless the code is amended.

Over the past several months, the ZBA held three public hearings to address whether an 18-hole golf course could be built as an accessory use to a proposed 118-unit residential subdivision off Spinney Road. In a 5-2 vote last month, the board ruled in favor of project developers Arizona-based Discovery Land Corporation, claiming that the golf course was comparable to a tennis court, which is currently allowed under residential zoning or a planned residential district.

“The ZBA ruling blows a hole in our code a half-mile wide,” Mr. Schiavoni said on Friday. "It really, really opens up many possibilities to many developments, not just PRDs.”

Ambiguity in section 330 of the town’s zoning code, which spells out what constitutes an accessory use, has been a point of contention for Mr. Schiavoni since last July, when he proposed a town-wide moratorium on development in environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Pine Barrens. The six-month abeyance would have allowed the Town Board to review laws, studies and plans that focus on areas above the deepwater recharge sole-source aquifer—where most of the area’s drinking water is derived from—and to come up with recommendations for new, tighter regulations.

He withdrew his legislation within a week, noting that he did not believe that it would have had enough support from other board members to pass. His second proposal, to limit recreational space in PRDs to 1 acre per 10 dwellings or lots, or 10 acres, whichever is less, was shot down in October, with only Councilman John Bouvier supporting the idea.

Although he has repeatedly been accused of specifically targeting Discovery Land, Mr. Schiavoni countered that the developer’s proposal merely illuminated a gap in the town code.

Last week, he said that he believes the Town Board should clarify the code. However, he went on to say that nothing is in the works to do so as of yet.

“As far as the ambiguity in the code, I do believe it’s the Town Board’s purview to write code and we should be doing that, not just for this application, but for any application,” the councilman said.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who disagreed with the ZBA decision, said the Town Board would be well within its rights to change and clarify the code.

“The purpose of a legislative body, whether it’s at the state or town level, is to legislate,” he said. “The ZBA got it wrong. I think there’s a compelling reason [for the Town Board] to use their legislative authority to fix that.”

Even ZBA Chairman Adam Grossman, who opposed the golf course development under the residential zoning, said that he would support amending the code.

“Whenever the zoning code isn’t as clear as it should be, it’s always helpful for the Town Board to make an amendment,” he said. “It’s helpful for all involved for the code to be as clear as possible.”

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Let’s hear it for Tommy John Schiavoni! This code provision clearly needs fixing, and Councilman Schiavoni is not quitting until it gets fixed. Two unsuccessful attempts are not stopping him; he’ll keep at it.

This is because he knows that the loophole created by the ZBA’s recent decision on the Discovery project proposed for East Quogue will ultimately destroy our town by allowing untrammeled development just about everywhere. (If you can put an 18-hole golf course ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1923), Quiogue on Dec 26, 18 7:42 PM