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May 19, 2015 12:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Residents Continue To Air Concerns About East Quogue Golf Course Community Monday Night

Ron Kass, president of the Citizens for Clean Drinking Water, Clean Air and Clean Bays, speaks out against The Hills at Southampton during a public scoping session on Monday night in East Quogue. KYLE CAMPBELL
May 20, 2015 12:13 PM

Wearing a white biohazard suit, a respirator, and black rubber boots and yellow rubber gloves, Colleen Carini greeted attendees of Monday night’s public hearing on a proposed golf course resort community in East Quogue.

The Flanders resident stood at the entrance of the East Quogue Elementary School cafetorium holding two signs: One depicted a man dressed in a similar outfit while applying pesticides to Southampton’s Sebonack Golf Club; the other simply showed the letters “PDD”—the acronym for a planned development district, special zoning granted by the Town Board that allows developers to trump established zoning—crossed out by a red “no” symbol.

Ms. Carini was one of more than nearly two dozen people who expressed concerns about “The Hills at Southampton,” a proposed mixed-use PDD that calls for the construction of 118 residential units and an 18-hole golf course on nearly 600 acres in East Quogue, during the second of two public scoping sessions hosted by the Southampton Town Board in less than two weeks. The first was held on May 5 at Town Hall.

“I am deeply concerned about the effects of pesticides on the golf course and what effect they might have on our bays,” she said, later noting that she is also concerned about her drinking water. “That is something I want studied in the scope.”

Dissenters outnumbered supporters by a more than two-to-one ratio Monday evening, with many in the crowd, which numbered more than 100, erupting in applause when the strongest opposing viewpoints were shared.

The hearing gave community members the opportunity to tell the Town Board what issues they want to see addressed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, for “The Hills” development. The project is being pitched by Arizona-based Discovery Land Company as a high-end, seasonal golf community that will feature 108 single-family homes, 10 condominiums attached to a clubhouse, and an 18-hole golf course all centered on 168 acres along Spinney Road. Most of the remaining acreage would be set aside as open space, according to the application on file with the town.

Discovery Land Company first submitted a pre-application for the PDD—a special zoning change that can only be granted by a super-majority of the Town Board—in June 2013. The developer later modified its proposal, upping the number of proposed residential units from 82 to 118, a move that angered some hamlet residents even though the applicant has offered to acquire former farmland and donate it as open space. The revised application was deemed complete by the Town Board this past January and, a month later, members initiated the State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, process. That process requires that public hearings be scheduled so that community members can request what specific studies, protocols and alternatives they expect the developer to include in the environmental impact study.

Charles “Chic” Voorhis of Melville-based Nelson, Pope and Voorhis, the environmental planning firm hired by Discovery Land to prepare the DEIS, said the draft scope adheres to town regulations and employs various water filtration methods, including rain gardens and protective linings underneath portions of the golf course.

“The Hills plan protects and preserves a significant amount of land in East Quogue and is consistent, we believe, with the town’s Central Pine Barrens overlay district,” Mr. Voorhis said. “The Hills golf course is designed to protect native species, wildlife and area waters through the use of land-lined greens, a sophisticated irrigation system and water recycling techniques, organic materials, professional management and native and protective plantings.”

The 34 people who spoke Monday night requested numerous items be included in the DEIS, including: a survey of endangered species inhabiting the land; a specified list of the jobs that the development would create; noise, air and traffic studies; a zero-discharge stipulation for nitrogen; nitrogen testing for both public and drinking water wells; an examination of the workforce’s projected impact on local housing supplies and schools; and a stipulation that the golf course be open to the public, at least on a weekly basis.

The top request was for the town to determine what exactly could be built as of right on the land, which is actually several properties, and how much could be restricted by the town. The actual figure has varied, from as low as 50 homes to a high of 82, depending on one’s interpretation of the maps. Environmentalists insist that the figure is closer to 50 while the developer contends that 82 units could be built as of right on the main, 340-acre property known as The Hills South. That property features five-acre zoning.

“The PDD is not the only way to have control over what is built there,” East Quogue resident Ron Kass, president of the Citizens for Clean Drinking Water, Clean Air and Clean Bays, said. “No one has even seen a real, buildable 5-acre zoning map. Why don’t you have your zoning department determine what regulations can be enforced? Do it now.”

Several members of Mr. Kass’s group, including Ms. Carini and former Town Board member and environmental attorney Carolyn Zenk, also addressed the Town Board, expressing concern about the impact of the golf course on the environment.

Before closing the hearing, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said determining what can be done as of right needs to be a priority. “We need a clear understanding of what, in fact, can be achieved in a SEQRA process for as of right as well as with a PDD,” she said.

Town officials announced that they would continue accepting written comments on the application for another two weeks, up until Monday, June 1. At that time, the developers will be instructed by the town to include all of the requested studies in their DEIS.

Ms. Throne-Holst, meanwhile, also floated the idea of gathering a panel of local scientists with expertise on groundwater pollution to discuss the possible ramification of a golf course on top of the already compromised Weesuck Creek watershed.

Joe Amato, who lives in East Quogue, stated that the hamlet’s bays are already oversaturated with nitrates and that adding more to the mix would only add to the “crisis” conditions in the local waterways. He urged the board to deny the zoning change and strongly consider buying the land using the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Mr. Amato also urged the board to seek its own solution to the lack of public parking in East Quogue; one of the benefits pitched by developers is that they’d be willing to acquire property in the hamlet’s downtown for additional parking.

Additionally, Mr. Amato requested that the town start contributing payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, funds to the East Quogue School District to make up for all of the preserved land that has been taken off the tax rolls. Unlike its neighboring hamlets of Hampton Bays and Flanders, East Quogue now receives no PILOT funds.

Ms. Throne-Holst said the board is already in talks with state legislators to see if some PILOT funding can be allocated to the single-school district, which has struggled with finances under the cap on the tax levy. She also noted that a prior attempt by the town to acquire the land was turned down by the owner.

Another common area of concern raised at the meeting was whether the developers can, as they have suggested, enforce a covenant that restricts the number of days per year a homeowner can occupy their house in “The Hills” community. Representatives from Discovery Land say this will prevent the development from adding any children to the school district while contributing an estimated $4.4 million in annual school taxes to the cash-strapped district.

Skeptics questioned the legality of such a covenant and pointed out that if a child were to reside in one of the houses year-round, East Quogue would have no choice but to educate him or her. Ms. Throne-Holst said this also would be a priority.

About 10 people spoke in favor of the development, championing the increased tax revenue for the school district as well as the town’s ability to have more control over the project’s specifications.

“If done right, it will make East Quogue a place everyone wants to live,” said Richard Blowes, the former executive director of the Southampton Town Housing Authority who lives in East Quogue. “Also, this will go a long way toward lowering taxes.”

Others viewed development as inevitable and, therefore, found this proposal to be the best-case scenario.

Jim Smith, who also lives in East Quogue, said town officials “shot themselves in the foot” when they began reassessing vacant properties and taxing them at a higher level, making it tough for people to leave their land as-is.

“If you owned those properties and your taxes went sky-high, you’d say you either had to develop it or sell it,” Mr. Smith said. “I don’t want to see development, but I’m a realist.”

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Bring it on...East Quogue - Eastport needs tax help!
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on May 19, 15 1:04 PM
Don't build anything in East Quoque, but give us pilot funds to lower taxes on preserved land. This is the rational to some of the bozo's that were at the meeting.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 19, 15 4:08 PM
There were bozos at the meeting.........those in favor of the special zoning change.
By crusader (391), East Quogue on May 19, 15 5:46 PM
For those of you who don't recall, the developer for Southampton Pines assured us that NO children would be entering EQ School District if his subdivision was approved. Guess what......there are quite a few who attend school in the EQ School District.

With that in mind, at the scoping hearing, the Southampton Pines Association spokesperson stated that said development is in favor of a change in PDD for "The Hill's."

It should also be noted that Richard Blowes, the former executive ...more
By crusader (391), East Quogue on May 20, 15 6:54 AM