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Nov 7, 2008 9:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Woodfield Gables subdivision receives preliminary approval from town

Nov 7, 2008 9:10 AM

The controversial 57-lot Woodfield Gables subdivision in Speonk received preliminary approval from the Southampton Town Planning Board last Thursday, November 6. Since then, neighbors have filed several complaints with the Southampton Town Planning and Code Enforcement departments, pointing out that work has already begun on the site, even though the developer does not have final approval.

According to Town Planner David Wilcox, the town has received several calls since last week’s decision from local residents who said they have observed the addition of a berm along the perimeter of the 160-acre property over the past several days. Those residents also said that they have seen trucks coming in and out of the property along an access road to an old ATV trail.

Southampton Town’s Code Enforcement Investigator David Betts said that he received two complaints on Friday, one day after the approval.

“We’re still looking to see exactly what is in violation,” he said. “We’re not finished with the investigation. It really is the planning department that has jurisdiction.”

The subdivision has come under fire in the past because it will be constructed atop a 1.5-mile-long plume of contaminated groundwater that is traveling south toward the center of Speonk. The plume contains four different volatile organic compounds that were used as metal degreasers around the time that World War II ended.

Though the levels of those chemicals are not excessively elevated in the groundwater under the Woodfield Gables property, they are highly elevated in several hot spots to the south of the proposed subdivision. Some of the soil to the south of the site is also contaminated with high levels of chloroform, though developer Tom Datre has hired environmental consultants who have submitted evidence that high levels of chloroform are not a problem on his property.

Mr. Datre, who owns the property, has insisted that the contamination did not originate on his land, though the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is conducting an active investigation into the plume, has not yet pinpointed a source.

Mr. Datre has promised to install soil vapor barriers under the 57 new homes to prevent any potential exposure to chloroform and has also promised to provide public water to the subdivision.

Last week, the Planning Board voted 5-2 to approve the subdivision. Board members Alma Hyman and Jacqui Lofaro, who have long expressed opposition to the subdivision, cast the dissenting votes.

The proposed development targets 160 acres on Old Country Road in Speonk. The approval for the project has been in the works for more than two years as the Planning Board debated the best manner to go about including the information about the plume in its decision.

Though the board said in September 2006 that the project did not need an extensive environmental review, it wasn’t until later that fall that members of the board were made aware of the contamination, which is currently the subject of an active investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In September, after Mr. Datre’s attorney, Andrew Campanelli, repeatedly threatened to sue the Planning Board for considering reopening the environmental review process, the board voted to amend its 2006 decision that the project would not need further environmental review by adding information on the plume to that record. Ms. Hyman and Ms. Lofaro voted against that decision as well, citing the lack of coordinated review and public input that such a measure would entail.

Mr. Campanelli, in his argument to the board, said that its members could not prove that the actual subdivision, and not the underlying contamination, would be an environmental hazard to future residents of the subdivision.

Though Mr. Datre has not yet filed a final application, it is unclear now whether there will be another public hearing before the project receives final approval.

According to Mr. Wilcox, the Planning Board is not required to hold a public hearing if the final application “is in substantial agreement” with the preliminary application.

“It seems like they have some discretion,” he said of the Planning Board. “I don’t know how the board will go on that.”

He noted that the last public hearing on the project was held in 2006.

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