Nearly a dozen residents and environmentalists voiced their concerns about the potential impacts of a high-end golfing community that targets the largest remaining undeveloped parcel on the South Fork during a scoping hearing hosted by the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday night.
“The Hills at Southampton,” a mixed-use planned development district proposed for East Quogue, calls for the construction of 108 homes, a clubhouse featuring 10 condominiums, and an 18-hole golf course, all concentrated on 168 acres. The applicant, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, actually owns an adjoining property, and also is in contract to purchase others in the hamlet, upping the total acreage of its application to nearly 500.
Tuesday’s hearing, the first of two scheduled scoping hearings on the application that would require the approval of four of the five Town Board members, allowed residents and environmentalists to share their concerns about nitrogen pollution, as well as potential risks for flooding and spikes in traffic if the development gains approval.
“We have to get a grip on the overall [nitrogen] loading,” said Kevin McAllister, the founder and president of Defend H2O, a nonprofit that’s focused on water quality. “The devil is in the details when it comes to the [Draft Environmental Impact Statement], so I ask you to look carefully at what’s being proposed and the threat to water quality.”
Dr. Christopher Gobler, a marine biology professor at Stony Brook University and an East Quogue resident, focused on the application’s potential threat to the hamlet’s drinking water supplies. He also pointed to ongoing issues with nearby Weesuck Creek and Shinnecock Bay, two local bodies of water that are already polluted due to nitrogen overloading.
If developed in accordance with current 5-acre zoning, the main property that’s now owned by Discovery Land could accommodate up to 82 single-family homes, according to the applicant. That 168-acre property, dubbed “The Hills South” parcel, lies between Lewis and Spinney Roads. Discovery Land is in contract to buy two additional properties—the 62-acre Kracke property and the 101-acre Parlato property, both in East Quogue—to increase the density on the main property so it can accommodate 118 residential units. Both the Kracke property, which could accommodate up to 13 single-family homes, and the Parlato property would be designed as open space under the PDD application.
Environmentalists, many of whom said they would prefer that the main property’s zoning be kept at the existing 5-acre residential, are contending that only about 50 homes could now be built on the 168-acre property. Ideally, environmentalists said they would prefer that the town buy and preserve the land.
“That’s one of my main questions,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “We need to understand what the as-of-right is as it is currently written in order to compare it to what is written [in the PDD application].”
Other members of the community expressed concerns about whether proposed benefits of the PDD, the ones that are supposed to improve the quality of the water, should be labeled as community benefits. In order to seek a PDD, an applicant must provide the town with a number of benefits that offset the issues that arise with an more intense development.
“Many of the items listed under the proposed benefits should be carefully considered,” said Jennifer Hartnagel, senior environmental advocate for The Group for the East End. “I think many of them don’t pass what I call the ‘smell test,’ and should be considered mitigation, not benefits.
“I also think the DEIS should contain an analysis of the nitrogen impacts using the wastewater treatment system proposed with the as of right versus impacts using advanced wastewater management with alternatives and impacts with and without the golf course,” she continued.
Still, some who spoke on Tuesday wanted the forthcoming environmental study to focus on the potential economic benefits that the development could bring to the hamlet and the East Quogue School District. Discovery Land is estimating that its resort community, which would be marketed for second and third homeowners, would generate an estimated $4.4 million in annual tax revenue for the cash-strapped single-school district. The district is also supposed to receive $40,000 for various improvements and an acre of land for free from the applicant as well.
“I’m speaking for the silent majority tonight,” said Lawrence “Chip” Porter of Westhampton Beach. “The developer is doing their homework, and they won’t leave any possible constructive criticism go by the wayside. The ultimate truth is The Hills is a good investment for our community, and it is an opportunity not to be wasted.”
The Town Board adjourned the scoping hearing until 6 p.m. on Monday, May 18, when it will resume at the East Quogue Elementary School on Central Avenue.