Nearly a month ago, quietly and without any advance notice, a once-controversial plan to develop more than 400 acres of mostly wooded land in East Quogue returned to the public spotlight after years of dormancy.
The proposed Planned Development District zoning-change application that was walked on to last month’s Southampton Town Board agenda notified the public that in a month—or on Tuesday, August 27, to be precise—board members would be holding a pre-application hearing on the latest proposal, still dubbed “The Hills at Southampton” and still containing many of the same features as originally proposed back in 2009. The owners of the massive property, which extends from near the intersection of Lewis and Old Country roads and extends north past Sunrise Highway, still want to build an 18-hole golf course that would be nestled among 82 residential homes.
Though the new application closely resembles the proposal pitched in 2009, much has changed over the past four years, including the company that is now behind the development effort and the fact that an adjoining 150-acre property to the east, called “The Links,” was preserved in April 2012, when it was jointly purchased by Suffolk County and Southampton Town for just under $10 million. At one point, both properties were being targeted for possible preservation.
A press release distributed less than a week after the town’s unheralded announcement by the Discovery Land Company, a previously unmentioned party based in Scottsdale, Arizona, touting the future construction of a new golf course on the 436-acre property, added haziness to the situation, as the release strongly suggests that final approval is all but guaranteed.
Discovery is a land development company that specializes in golf resorts, boasting 14 locations throughout North America, most of which are in the western half of the continental United States. The firm took the lead on the project in 2011, explained Wayne Bruyn, an attorney representing the original property owner, formerly known as the East Quogue Group LLC. The property is now under the control of a group called DLV Quogue LLC, which includes both Discovery and the original owners who acquired the land nearly a decade earlier.
Joey Arenson, a Discovery partner, said recently that his company was introduced to the East Quogue Group project through mutual acquaintances in 2011, and has since become the primary partner in the new limited liability company because of Discovery’s lengthy golf resort pedigree.
“We plan to be pretty open book and talk to everybody we can to get them to embrace the project,” Mr. Arenson said.
According to the pre-application submission, which will be presented at 6 p.m. during the Town Board meeting on August 27, the new proposal calls for 82 housing units, or the same number after the town directed the East Quogue Group to dial down its initial request of 111 units, all of which are expected to be second homes. About 75 percent of the property is planned to be kept as a natural preserve, including the entirety of an 89-acre section that falls north of Sunrise Highway and in the central pine barrens.
Amy Pfeiffer, the principal planner in the Long-Term Planning Division of Southampton Town’s Land Management Department, said the measure was not originally listed on the agenda prior to the June 23 Town Board meeting because of a simple oversight, stating that the town was first contacted regarding the new proposal on June 3.
“We got it on the calendar as soon as we possibly could,” she said. “The reason it was a walk-on was because I hit the wrong button on the computer and it was marked for the wrong time.”
After the East Quogue Group was denied its 2009 request for a PDD, a zoning designation that allows a property to be used for an otherwise restricted purpose, its partners were forced to go back to the drawing board, Ms. Pfeiffer said. She explained that they had to adjust their proposal to address public concerns, such as protecting groundwater supplies and limiting density.
“The applicant came to us relatively recently with this new proposal,” she said. “When it first came up a couple years ago, the question was, ‘Could the property handle the type of development they had in mind?’”
Ms. Pfeiffer said it is not uncommon for PDDs to undergo multiple revisions, which can take multiple years at a time.
But many in the community are still unhappy with plans to develop the land, which is zoned residential and a portion of which falls within the core preservation area of the pine barrens, where construction is not permitted. Al Algieri, the president of the East Quogue Civic Association, said he opposes any application that goes against current zoning.
“I’m always opposed to a change of zoning because why have zoning if it can be easily changed?” he said.
While he acknowledges that he does not know many specifics about the new proposal, Mr. Algieri said he is approaching it skeptically, explaining that his main concern is the project’s potential to jeopardize the hamlet’s drinking water, citing the fertilizer runoff from the proposed golf course.
“We’re concerned that they‘re coming through so aggressively when the last guy couldn’t get anything done,” Mr. Algieri said, referring to the East Quogue Group. “He made proposals to the town in the past and they told him he had to go back and make changes. Now these new owners are coming on strong with a new proposal.”
Mr. Bruyn said his clients are hopeful that they can bolster their credibility by partnering with Discovery, “a developer that is known worldwide for developing properties with second and third homes on them,” as he described it.
The project, Mr. Bruyn said, stems from a study conducted by the town in the 1990s that determined a golf course to be the best utilization of the land, which he said made the opposition last time puzzling.
“We’re gonna present the history here that, No. 1, we’re presenting a plan that’s part of the town’s plan,” Mr. Bruyn said. “They don’t want a straightforward subdivision of one-acres lots, many of which would house full-time residents with children. We have a fiscal impact of zero school-age children and three or four million [in property taxes would go] to the [East Quogue] school district.”
At one point after the East Quogue Group’s first proposal failed, there were discussions of combining “The Hills” property with an adjoining 150-acre property to the east called “The Links” and preserving it, Mr Bruyn said. The town and county eventually partnered to preserve the smaller parcel, but Mr. Bruyn said his clients were never approached until earlier this year. Though he declined to say the exact amount, Mr. Bruyn said the town offered about one third what it had paid for “The Links” property.
“We don’t even know how real that was,” he said. “Maybe it was just done so the Town Board could say they made an offer.”
Mary Wilson, the manager of the town’s Community Preservation Fund, confirmed in an email that the town did, in fact, make an offer but she would not disclose the amount.
In order for the latest PDD to be approved, four out of the five Town Board members, known as a supermajority, must sign off on the application. The process is typically long and tedious, taking several years to complete in most instances, according to Jennifer Garvey, the deputy chief of staff for Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
Ms. Garvey noted that the process has been amended in recent years to shorten it, but still takes a long time to complete. She added that the hearing on the pre-application is only the first step in the process, and that is when the community can weigh in on the proposal.
Even if all goes well, Discovery and its partners are most likely at least several months, most likely years, away from actually breaking ground, according to Ms. Garvey.
“This is still in the idea phase,” she said. “This is just a notice to the community.”