Opponents of a golf course resort community proposed along Spinney Road in East Quogue are questioning whether the developer has the right to construct the 18-hole golf course under current zoning, as its new application maintains.
Discovery Land Company—the same firm behind the defeated proposal for a development at the same site called “The Hills at Southampton”—is pitching a new plan to the Southampton Town Planning Board that calls for the construction of 118 homes, the same number of units included in the earlier application, along with a private 18-hole golf course on nearly 600 acres. All of the land is in a 5-acre residential zone, the most restrictive in the municipality.
This time, the developer is insisting that it can build its golf course development—called the Lewis Road Planned Residential Development—without securing a change of zone. The company points to a little-used portion of the town code that permits the addition of certain recreational amenities, such as tennis courts, in residential neighborhoods, and argues that a golf course to be used by the development’s residents is a comparable amenity allowed by zoning.
The pre-application also has an alternate plan that calls for 137 units—including some workforce housing—and no golf course. The golf course resort is the preferred option by the developer.
Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said his board is working to review what some are calling a gray area in the local law. He explained that the law doesn’t specifically state that an 18-hole golf course could be considered a legal accessory use—but it doesn’t appear to prohibit it either.
The law lists some examples, such as tennis courts and swimming pools, but fails to include other amenities, such as bocce courts, which have been built under the same section of the law.
Phil Keith, the Planning Board’s secretary, called the golf course the “principal item of contention” in the application. “The code for these types of projects is a little bit vague and open to some interpretation,” he said. “In other words, they don’t forbid or allow golf courses in the code itself.
“The application has demonstrated that it is an appropriate recreational use to the project,” he continued.
But opponents to the project insist that the golf course cannot be built.
New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who stood with environmentalists who opposed The Hills the last time around, said a golf course cannot be built as part of a subdivision because it is considered “active recreation.”
A planned residential development, or PRD, is a subdivision built under the open space law. Unlike traditional subdivisions, PRDs have open space requirements that are intended to preserve environmentally sensitive land. In the case of the Lewis Road PRD, part of the property falls in the core Pine Barrens, where development is not allowed.
Mr. Thiele—who insisted he was commenting broadly on the law and its intention, not on the project itself—said he has a unique perspective, as he helped write the law in the early 1980s, when he served as the Southampton Town attorney.
Mr. Finnerty added that his board is looking to the current town attorney, James Burke, for legal advice about the open space law.
The law, and its interpretation, is the focus of recent debate as the Planning Board is tasked with approving a project based on its merits, meaning personal opinions of individual board members is not supposed to come into play. When the former application—pitched in the form of a now-outlawed Planned Development District, or PDD—was in front of the Town Board, subjective variables and politics were able to come into play. None of that is allowed at the Planning Board level with the new application.
“It’s a lot more administrative than the PDD process,” Mr. Finnerty said.
Under Discovery Land’s PRD proposal, 35 percent of the property, or about 207 acres, will be developed for the subdivision, with the remaining 65 percent, or about 387 acres, preserved, Mr. Finnerty said. The golf course is included in the 35 percent that can be built on.
The developer is choosing to build 118 single-family homes—instead of the 137 units allowed as of right—to make room to build the golf course. The homes are expected to employ standard septic systems that meet Suffolk County Department of Health Services standards.
Mark Hissey, a Discovery Land vice president, did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to open space concerns, Robert DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, another longtime opponent of Discovery Land’s plan, said he is concerned that the golf course would be too intense of a use of the property. That is the reason, he said, that such an application should not be entertained at all.
“The issue here is, you can’t have two primary uses, and a golf course isn’t allowed in a residential zone,” Mr. DeLuca said.
Lisa Liquori, an environmental planning consultant and a former East Hampton Town planning director, and Jeff Bragman, an East Hampton attorney who currently serves as an East Hampton Town councilman, submitted letters to the Planning Board. Both Mr. Liquori and Mr. Bragman were hired by Group for the East End to review the application, and both backed Mr. DeLuca’s position.
Mr. Finnerty said his board is reviewing the golf course to see if it qualifies as an accessory use or, instead, a second primary use, as Mr. DeLuca suggested.
He said one aspect appears to be definitive: “It’s a large accessory use.”
Mr. Keith said that he and the other members of the Planning Board are still far from making a decision on the application. The written comment period for the public hearing held last month recently closed, and the Planning Board is reviewing all materials. The board ultimately will compile a report to give back to the developer, possible as early as next month, with recommendations for filing a formal application.
Next, a draft environmental impact statement and a state environmental review would have to be completed. Once they are reviewed and approved, the applicant will move on to a final environmental impact statement.
Along the way there will be several public hearings so the Planning Board can consider public input.
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