The Lewis Road planned residential development, previously named The Hills, is planned for 600 undeveloped acres in the Pine Barrens, and it seems to be, in one form or another, on its way to approval. The location is in the environmentally sensitive aquifer recharging area.
Opponents fear that this development, which includes a golf course, will contaminate the aquifers that lie below the Pine Barrens. The pollutants would come from the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and fungicides that are applied directly onto the golf course’s fairways and greens to maintain them in an unnatural state. These chemical pollutants contaminate the groundwater, which eventually works its way into the aquifers. These aquifers are the source of potable water for the Town of Southampton.
The history of this proposed project illustrates the dysfunctional and undemocratic structural problems of the Town of Southampton’s government. The plan was originally voted down by the elected Town Board. The plan needed a super-majority of four votes to pass, which it did not receive. That should have been the end of this controversial project — but it wasn’t.
Discovery Land, the developer of the project, submitted the project to the Town Planning Board the following year. The Planning Board is an unelected, appointed board. The Planning Board requested a ruling from the Zoning Board of Appeals on if the golf course could be approved as an accessory use. The ZBA is another unelected and appointed board.
The ZBA approved the golf course as a permitted accessory use for the proposed project. Discovery Land is now waiting for final approval for the project from the Planning Board.
The ZBA has an approval rate in the high 90s, approving almost every appeal that comes in front of it. Both the Planning Board and the ZBA are staffed with political patronage appointees. Some appointees of these boards have extensive business ties to the real estate industry, the very industry they were appointed to adjudicate.
This reality raises the question of a conflict of interest affecting the impartiality of the boards. The Southampton Town Board, in a troubling development, recently extended the term of appointment for these boards to seven years.
The Planning Board and the ZBA, both unelected institutions, have somehow usurped the authority and power of the elected Town Board. Shouldn’t a project that will have a profound effect on our water supply be vetted and decided by our elected officials? Officials who must answer to the will of the people at election time?
Pro bono publico.
One fine body…