A platoon of residents and scientists blasted a proposal for a new golf resort development in East Quogue, one that would feature an 18-hole course and 82 homes, on Tuesday night at Town Hall, stating that it would further contribute to spiking water quality problems in nearby bays.Representatives of the developers, in turn, nodded to what they could do as an alternative, saying that it could be far worse, environmentally speaking.
The project, known as “The Hills at Southampton,” is proposed for 436 acres located just south of Sunrise Highway, a portion of which falls within the core preservation area of the pine barrens, which bars any form of development. Preliminary designs of the proposed development, which would require the town to grant a change of zone for the land, show the rest of the property woven with golf course holes and 82 residences and spa facilities.
The project designers touted that 75 percent of the property would remain undeveloped, though sketches show the open spaces scattered widely between the golf course holes and other development that covers the vast majority of the long rectangular parcel.
“What we’ve intended to do is take land with natural assets, but also disturbed areas, and place our development within those disturbed areas,” development consultant Charles Voorhis of the engineering firm Nelson Pope & Voorhis said of the plans for the property, which includes a current sand mine.
The developers, a consortium including the Discovery Land Company, a private club resort developer based in Arizona, said the units of their resort-style design, like others they have built around the world, are more likely to be used on a part-time basis by their owners. In turn, the residential units would contribute far less sewage waste and children to local school districts than the 82 homes they could now legally build on the property.
“We’ve been down a substantial path with the as-of-right development here,” said attorney Wayne Bruyn, who is representing the applicant. “The board needs to look at that, compared with what is proposed with the development tonight.
“If you don’t want this, you are promoting the 82-lot subdivision,” he added. “Eighty-two one-acre lots, with the sewage and implications for school children, with no controls whatsoever and no chance for the Planning Board to start imposing public benefits.”
The developers are asking for a change of zone for the property, to permit the golf course and spa facilities, in addition to the residential development. They noted that a 2008 hamlet study of East Quogue recommended that development be complimented by commercial and recreational facilities. The study specifically referenced a golf course on the property, with the suggestion that it be made at least partly open to the public.
Tuesday’s hearing was only the initial public unveiling of the project, a step required by the Town Board to gauge public sentiment before a developer even files an official application for a Planned Development District.
Opposition to the idea of developing the land at all was immediately strident. A host of area residents, including two marine scientists from Stony Brook University, warned that the gold resort would exacerbate already dire water quality problems in nearby bays.
“It’s only 400 meters from the edge of that property to the waters of Weesuck Creek … the travel time with groundwater flows is two years,” said Dr. Christopher Gobler, who has published several studies on harmful algae blooms in local bays and their connections to elevated levels of nitrogen caused by residential sewage. “Concentrations of nitrogen in this area are already exceedingly high. If you enhance the levels of nitrogen, you enhance the density of red tides. The epicenter of these events is Weesuck Creek.”
Long Island Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Richard Amper implored the town to find a way to prevent any development on the parcel, the largest single privately owned lot remaining within the pine barrens. He said the town should renew efforts to purchase the property with Community Preservation Fund money and work with private groups to meet the price that the developers have offered.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town had been forced to decline an offer by the owners to sell the property to the town, after a town-county preservation partnership fell apart, because the price, while below market value, was still more than official appraisals that the town received. The rules for CPF purchases bar the town from paying more than appraised values. Officials have not disclosed those prices.
“We still prefer the no-action alternative,” Mr. Amper said. “We prefer acquisition at fair market value. We ought to be working together with the state, the county and the town to preserve that land.”