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Sep 21, 2011 12:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Buys 14 Acres In Riverside, Leaves Open Possibility For Future Hotel At Site

Sep 21, 2011 2:31 PM

Suffolk County recently purchased 14 acres of a 20-acre waterfront property in Riverside—land long targeted for a nearly 100-room hotel and conference center—leaving open the possibility for some sort of smaller commercial development on the site.

The estimated $2.4 million purchase, which was completed on September 7 and authorized by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, means that about 6 acres of the property—all of which had been originally targeted for preservation, much to the dismay of many local residents—can still be developed. Pamela Greene, the director of the division of real property acquisition and management for Suffolk County, said the paperwork was signed two weeks ago.

Originally, the county was going to buy and preserve the entire property, which is owned by Dede Gotthelf, for $3.5 million; in fact, the County Legislature approved that purchase in December 2010. The modified plan began to take shape earlier this year before being finalized on September 7.

According to Catherine Stark, the chief aide for Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, the amount of land to be preserved changed due to a dispute over a right of way located on the eastern side of the property. As a result, 6 acres on the eastern side of the lot will not be preserved and could possibly one day host a smaller hotel or motel, according to Mr. Schneiderman.

Some residents living in the hamlets of Riverside, Flanders and Northampton had criticized the plan to preserve the entire property, complaining that too much land has already been taken off the tax rolls by preservation in those communities. According to Southampton Town, approximately 68 percent of the land in the tri-hamlet area has been preserved and does not contribute to the tax base. In turn, residents have long complained that homeowners have been forced to absorb the majority of the tax burden due, in part, to a lack of commercial development in the community.

“The plan would be to work with the community,” Mr. Schneiderman said when asked about the idea of building a smaller hotel, or another business, on the developable lot. “I’m waiting to hear back from the owner of the property, but the plan is to develop plans with the town for hotel development.”

Ms. Gotthelf did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week.

Vince Taldone, the president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, was among the community leaders who said on Tuesday that they are pleased that part of the land can still be developed. Personally, Mr. Taldone said he hopes that a “high-end hotel” could be built there, noting that such a facility should attract tourists and provide jobs for locals.

“We’re as excited as we can be,” he said. “Honestly, we thought we lost this parcel completely.”

Mr. Taldone said more commercial businesses are needed to help offset the school tax rate, which, he pointed out, jumped almost 23 percent last year for those living in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, who send their children to the Riverhead School District.

“This is a neighborhood with no resources. We need to generate some commercial tax base that can help to reduce the burden on the residents,” Mr. Taldone said. “Of everyone I know in the neighborhood, no one makes a lot of money. They struggle to pay their taxes every year.”

In 2001, Ms. Gotthelf filed an application to build a 98-room hotel and conference center—dubbed “Rivercatwalk”—on her land, a portion of which abuts the Peconic River. She has previously stated that she believed that the town deliberately stalled her hotel project for nearly a decade and, as a result, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2008 that seeks $25 million in damages. Her lawsuit, which town officials said this week remains active, alleges that she was forced to sell her land to the county for preservation.

As part of her 2001 application, Ms. Gotthelf requested that the town rezone her land from a mix of resort and waterfront business district zoning to a planned development district, or PDD, a tool that can be utilized by developers to build projects that would not normally be allowed under existing zoning. According to town documents, the plan called for a four-story, 83,441-square-foot hotel with catering and conference facilities. The application also called for the construction of four two-story cottages, a possible restaurant, an office or retail store and several access points to the riverfront.

A hotel is not permitted under current zoning, but documents state that a waterfront business complex, motels and marinas would be permitted there without a change of zone.

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Follow the money!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Sep 21, 11 8:56 PM