For the second time in months, Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst are sparring over jurisdiction.
This month, Mr. Amper accused Ms. Throne-Holst, who represents Southampton Town on the commission, of overstepping her bounds and trying to circumvent a Pine Barrens Commission review of a proposed zoning designation in Southampton Town. Intended to help revitalize the Riverside area, a new zoning overlay for that area would allow property owners the option of choosing an alternate zoning designation allowing more density.
Ms. Throne-Holst said that the commission would have the right to evaluate all the projects created as a result of the new overlay district, but that at the moment there are no projects. She said the overlay district is an idea that would allow new development, but that there is nothing to study right now.
“It is unimaginable to me that a politician would seek to override a professional staff consideration under the draft environmental impact study,” Mr. Amper said, “then to turn around and say, no, the Riverside project is not a development—unimaginable.”
The plan, which was presented to both the Southampton Town Board and Riverside residents in April, is centered on creating an “optional overlay” zoning code, which gives property and business owners the freedom to decide if they want to develop their property under current zoning or a new zoning code that would incorporate mixed-use zoning in certain parts of the hamlet.
Drawn up by the Plainview-based developer Renaissance Downtown, the plan creates six new zones in Riverside: the Riverside Hamlet Center, the Riverside Hamlet Neighborhood District, the Special District, the Gateway District, the Waterfront District and the Suburban District.
The new zoning would allow more types of businesses and development, as well as increased density. If the developers opt in to take advantage of the overlay, the property would not revert back to the old zoning even under new ownership. The new zoning will also tie certain restrictions to the property, including requiring businesses to offer jobs and contracts to local residents first and to have infrastructure that would enable them to tie into a state-of-the-art sewer system.
According to Mr. Amper, the commission’s jurisdiction for the Pine Barrens in the case of the Riverside zoning dates back to 1989. At the time, he said, there were 234 development projects proposed for the Pine Barrens region in Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton towns. Every individual project was being reviewed independently by the town involved, and being approved without taking into account the cumulative impact all of the projects would have. The Pine Barrens Commission took the issue to court, saying it did not make sense, and the court system could require the County Legislature to formulate a plan to ensure that Pine Barrens projects are considered regionally.
“She can’t say that something isn’t development when the State Legislature defines it as such,” Mr. Amper said of Ms. Throne-Holst. “What her defense is was to say that when each individual project gets proposed there is an opportunity to review them—but that will be taking us back to 1989 if we review each separately.”
But Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins disagreed with Mr. Amper. Mr. Collins said the Riverside proposal would not change anything about how the town works with the Pine Barrens Commission, adding that the commission has been listed as an interested party in the proposal and was provided a copy of the draft environmental impact study to provide comments during its design process.
“Riverside is a zone change on the town’s motion for a larger district,” Mr. Collins said. “It is not a project as defined under the Pine Barrens. What the town said is that as projects may or may not come in under this voluntary overlay district, the Pine Barrens jurisdiction will have to be determined. There is no project here.”
According to Mr. Collins, the Pine Barrens Commission has been included in the entire development process for the proposal, and comments provided by the commission were included in final reports.
“We brought the Pine Barrens in and had a presentation to the commission and as a result of that we referred the DEIS to them,” he said. “Their comments were incorporated.”
This is the second time Mr. Amper has claimed Ms. Throne-Holst is trying to usurp the Pine Barrens Commission. Ms. Throne-Holst requested a public hearing to decide if the commission has jurisdiction in the proposal for The Hills at Southampton, which would be a subdivision and golf course on a several-hundred-acre tract in East Quogue. The request came in September, with members of the Pine Barrens Society saying there is no reason the commission would not have jurisdiction over the application since The Hills would be a project of regional significance. However, Ms. Throne-Holst said at the time the hearing would make the proposal more transparent to the public and would lay out the reasoning behind decisions made by the Pine Barrens Commission. Ultimately, the hearing was canceled.
This week, Ms. Throne-Holst said one of the biggest sources of confusion surrounding the Pine Barrens jurisdiction in the Riverside plan is the idea that the proposal is a project rather than a district. “We had some discussions about it when we went into executive session because the commissioners wanted to make sure that we were addressing it correctly, and we were,” she said.
Mr. Amper vehemently disagreed, saying that he was very upset that Ms. Throne-Holst would try to usurp the authority of the Pine Barrens Commission, and adding that if December were not her last month on the board, and her last month as town supervisor, he would call for Ms. Throne-Holst to resign.
“There is no use calling for her resignation, since she is leaving,” he said. “We do not object to the project, but she is putting the next administration in a position to have to live with the mistakes that she has made if she can’t fix them.”