The proposed planned development district that would bring a golf course and 82 homes to East Quogue was dealt a damning—but potentially irrelevant—blow by the Suffolk County Planning Commission earlier this month.
The commission, which evaluates large projects with regional impacts throughout the county, rejected the pre-application for “The Hills at Southampton” at its monthly meeting on September 4, recommending that the town not go forward with the plan as it is currently designed. The project targets more than 400 acres of mostly wooded land that extends from near the intersection of Lewis and Old Country roads and sits north of Sunrise Highway.
The 15-member commission shot down the proposal from the DLV Quogue LLC, citing issues such as lack of affordable housing for the proposed golf course’s employees, the potential impact of a heavily fertilized golf course on nitrogen and phosphate levels in the local watershed, as well as skepticism about the housing being exclusively used as second and third homes, as the proposal suggests to counter concerns that the development would overburden the East Quogue School District.
“It’s not clear that they have taken certain steps to meet regional needs,” David Calone, chair of the commission, said of the group, adding that the proposal “lacked a lot of specificity.”
The commission’s decision might be meaningless though, as it could be overruled by a super-majority vote of the Southampton Town Board; all proposed PDDs already require the support of four of five board members.
Mr. Calone explained that the commission’s ruling is meant to act as “a thumb on the scale,” adding more burden to the applicant to meet the county’s standards and putting an extra hurdle in front of town government, hence the super-majority requirement. But because Southampton Town already requires a super-majority vote on PDDs, Mr. Calone said he does not know if the ruling will effectively change the trajectory of the proposal.
Tom Young, the Planning Commission’s assigned legal counsel from in the Suffolk County attorney’s office, declined to comment Friday on the legal ramifications the decision would have on the town’s decision-making process.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week that she was uncertain how the county planning commission ruling would affect the Town Board’s decision, or whether it should even entertain the proposal when DLV Quogue files an official application. But she said it is something she would take into serious consideration before casting her vote.
“I know for myself, I take it very seriously,” she said of the ruling. “There’s a reason why there’s a Planning Commission, and there’s a reason why we refer to them.”
Wayne Bruyn, an attorney representing the original property owner, formerly known as the East Quogue Group LLC, said there is no legal precedent for the commission to make a ruling on a pre-application, something that Mr. Calone admitted was unusual. Mr. Bruyn added that it was not appropriate for the commission to administer a ruling before the property owner had a chance to conduct an environmental impact study, which he believes would have addressed many of the issues raised by the Planning Commission.
“Right now, I don’t know how the Planning Commission got what they got, or how they acted on it,” he said.
Jennifer Garvey, deputy chief of staff and aide to Ms. Throne-Holst, said the pre-application was sent to the Planning Commission under the town’s recently revamped PDD proposal policy. That policy features a more comprehensive screening process where the town seeks feedback from the community and other governmental bodies to see what concerns a potential applicant will face before the applicant submits a formal proposal.
The early vetting, Ms. Garvey continued, is intended to save the applicant both time and money, as well as provide the Town Board a chance to determine whether it wants to even consider such an application.
But Mr. Bruyn said this still doesn’t explain why the commission issued a formal ruling on the application at such an early stage, something that can only be done per the request of the town. Mr. Bruyn said he has not seen any documentation of such a referral from the town.
“The Planning Commission only acts on an official referral from the town, so the first question is, what prompted them to act in the first place?” he said.
Such referrals generally come from the town’s land management department. Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins, head of land management, could not be reached for comment this week.
Joey Arenson, a representative of the Discover Land Company, the primary partner in DLV Quogue, said the full ramifications of the decision are not yet clear. But he emphasized that, as far as he is concerned, the PDD process has not been derailed.
“We’re headed forward with the town full-steam ahead,” he said. “We’re taking [the commission’s decision] into consideration, but still plugging ahead trying to get this approved the right way.”
The property in question has long been a point of contention in the town. The East Quogue Group’s 2009 proposal to bring a golf course to the property was rejected by the town and, likewise, DLV Quogue denied an offer by the town to purchase the land outright for preservation. For some community members, the red flags raised by the county planning commission echoed their own reservations about the PDD.
“We’re very glad that they found it unfit because of environmental reasons,” East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Joan Hughes said. “Because that’s been our concern all along.”
Others believe this ruling is continuing misconceptions about a project that would be a boon to the hamlet.
Donna Lanzetta, the president of the East Quogue Chamber of Commerce and vocal advocate for the project, said many people are being shortsighted when looking at the project. She argued that the PDD would be less invasive than the as-of-right land use, which is zoned for residential use and still could accommodate up to 82 single-family houses.
“This development is positive for our community,” Ms. Lanzetta said. “I feel like what they could do as a matter of right would be much more detrimental to our environment, and if we deny this PDD, the community will be shooting itself in the foot.”