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Sep 3, 2014 10:58 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Watershed Developments On Horizon For Southampton Town

Sep 3, 2014 10:58 AM

In the 18 months before the next round of local elections, the sitting Southampton Town Board is in a position to rule over some of the most ambitious, controversial and challenging development proposals to face the town in recent memory.

From laying out the revitalization and redevelopment of the main thoroughfare in the eastern part of town, to a bank of luxury housing on the Shinnecock Canal, to a sprawling new golf course development, the list of projects that will need the approval of the Town Board in the coming months carries the potential to change the face of many communities.

“I’m excited—I think we’re all excited, actually,” first-year Councilman Stan Glinka said of the potential gravity of the board’s coming agenda. “There are some big decisions to be made. But it’s a positive challenge. We all welcome this ... This is why we got elected.”

The board weathered mountains of criticism in June for its unanimous approval of Sandy Hollow Cove, a 28-unit apartment complex off Sandy Hollow Road in Tuckahoe. As it did with that project, which had initially been proposed as 34 larger units, the board has brushed off other projects at first look and sent them back to the applicants for retooling.

“Without exception, every one of these applications we have sent back to the drawing board in their history,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “In whatever configuration they come to us now, they are already the result of pretty careful examination and the realization that, no, this is not commensurate with our vision of appropriateness. And they may still not be.”

Later this month, the board will finally be presented with a sweeping six-year study of the County Road 39 corridor, the township’s largest commercial district. The study was begun with the mission of drafting comprehensive guidelines for redevelopment of the blighted and often incongruously developed corridor. The final draft of the study recommends broad new guidelines on everything from site planning arrangements to landscaping and the placement of parking, which town officials hope will help slowly revitalize the corridor’s businesses and boost its usefulness to residents.

Also this month, the Town Board is expected to begin its review of changes to the town code that could play a crucial role in the consideration by the town’s Planning Board of a proposal for a CVS drugstore at Bridgehampton’s main intersection. That project has been pilloried by residents as a hazard and an aesthetic scar on an otherwise historic street corner and, if approved, could carry precedent-setting implications to the town as a whole. The legislation, which would amend the town’s rules on special exceptions to the town’s 5,000-square-foot maximum for commercial storefronts, could potentially block the CVS plans.

Following on the heels of those two major legislative chores, the town anticipates seeing, possibly in quick succession or even simultaneously, three applications for planned development districts. Planned development districts, or PDDs, are a much-debated zone-changing tool, an overlay of sorts that is meant to allow projects that carry important community benefits where zoning maps would otherwise block them. The Town Board carries absolute discretion to flatly deny any PDD. But developers often leverage the maximum as-of-right uses for a property without a PDD as the less desirable choice. In the decade since the PDD was introduced, the Town Board more often than not has ultimately agreed to them, in some form.

The first and most sweeping impact of the County Road 39 study will be the weight of its recommendations on plans for a zone change in Tuckahoe, where developers have proposed placing a new King Kullen shopping center. Representatives of the lead developer, Robert Morrow, were presented with an outline of residents’ potential concerns about the project, known as the Tuckahoe Center, in early 2013.

With 55,000 square feet of commercial space, mostly the cavernous supermarket, the Tuckahoe Center proposal has been blasted by Tuckahoe residents as a potential traffic nightmare. Southampton Village businesses and elected officials have threatened to sue if it is approved, fearing it would head off potential shoppers in the village.

Because the Tuckahoe Center proposal has been in the developers’ court for some 18 months, the most recently elected two of the five Town Board members, Councilmen Stan Glinka and Brad Bender, have never seen the plans or sat through one of the raucous public hearings on the proposal. More hearings are on tap once the developers submit their response to the long list of concerns known as an environmental impact statement.

Similarly, Mr. Glinka and Mr. Bender, who took office in January, have never taken part in the review of the multi-faceted PDD proposal for the redevelopment of the Canoe Place Inn and the development of townhouses on the eastern shoreline of the Shinnecock Canal. That project was most recently before the Town Board last December. Residents said that the proposed 40 townhouses were too many and too imposing for the canal property, and raised many objections to plans to place a sewage treatment system on a neighboring property.

Like the Tuckahoe proposal, that project has already been the subject of several long public meetings and has been back in the developers’ court for many months. Amendments to the initial EIS—likely including a paring down of the residential component—are expected to be brought back to the board in the near future.

Also looming is the anticipated application for the Hills at Southampton, which is in East Quogue. In February, developers came to the Town Board with a preliminary application for 82 homes and a golf course on one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in the town. After receiving permission from the Town Board to make an official application, the developers made a pitch to residents: If they could get an additional 36 units, 118 in all, they would preserve 150 acres of developable land on two properties adjacent to their own 436 acres.

The developers have billed the golf course and residences as a better alternative to the 82 houses that could be built on the property as of right, because the units would have state-of-the-art septic systems and residency restrictions that would prevent year-round occupancy and, thusly, an influx of students to local schools.

Add to the mix another PDD application that would locate more than 80 condominium units on the main drag in Water Mill, and the board is expected to face applications affecting nearly every hamlet in the township.

“With PDDs, the board has broad discretion, and there is going to be a lot asked of them to decide about the future of the town,” said Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, an environmental and public advocacy watchdog. “The upside would be that they can look at these projects contextually, which can be helpful when thinking about density and intensity of use. One hurdle will be that when you’ve got lots to do you have to make a special effort that each project gets the attention it deserves.”

In the past, town boards have been criticized by environmental leaders for looking too narrowly at large applications, without adequately considering one project’s place in the long-term development of the town. Legal guidelines demand that the board members look at each project on its own merits, but with the fears and pitfalls of several projects ringing in their ears, some say the stacking of chores may keep them focused on the larger picture.

“It would help us keep the discipline of making decisions based on long-term planning goals of the town,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. “Serving this town requires a broad outlook because of all the things that go into a land use decision. This is a big town and there are diverse needs and strengths and considering everything in the larger context can sometimes be difficult. Our responsibility is to take each application and consider its meaning to the community it is in, individually, and also to the whole town.”

Board members acknowledged that if, as expected, all these projects were to come before them in the next year, the workload will be gargantuan. Ms. Throne-Holst said that should more than one of the major PDDs be on the review table at once, she would ask that the public hearings be scheduled for special meetings with only one application on the agenda, so as to allow ample time for public comment without other town business bogging down the proceedings.

To concerns about the same group of individuals having such broad power over the town’s future, board members were hopeful that residents will see the sitting board as well suited for tackling the task.

“If I were a resident who had a predisposition about development, I guess there could be a concern about the same board making all these decisions,” Councilwoman Christine Scalera said. “But if you believe that your elected officials are truly looking at these without predisposition and taking all of the concerns of residents to heart and considering all the mitigating factors—which we are doing—then they should feel confident.”

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... spoken like a true lawyer/politico Ms. Scalera, pure doublespeak BS.
By William Rodney (555), southampton on Sep 8, 14 9:44 AM
I often agree with Mr. Rodney, and I often disagree with Ms. Scalera, but in this instance, I believe Mr. Rodney's comment is unfair. All Ms. Scalera said is that the Town Board is trying to do the right thing, and it's hard to take issue with that, unless you believe they act from ulterior motives, which Mr. Rodney hasn't suggested.

That said, I think the most pertinent and useful comment was made by Ms. Fleming, stressing the need to view all these applications in a town-wide context, ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Sep 8, 14 10:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
-keeping low density and rural areas is increasingly the most important of all "important community benefits " .. the logic has gone inverted!
..the logic that developers have traditionally used, can now be used against them!
.
it is time to re-assess the legal interpretation guidelines indeed:"Legal guidelines demand that the board members look at each project on its own merits,"
when towns become too dense then it becomes completely nonsensical, irrelevant and detrimental to treat ...more
By david h (405), southampton on Sep 8, 14 10:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
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