Southampton Town Considering Purchasing Woodfield Gables Property In Speonk

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Southampton Town officials are considering acquiring and preserving roughly 160 acres of vacant land in Speonk, a property that has been repeatedly targeted for a 57-home subdivision over the years though never advanced due, in large part, to a plume of contaminated groundwater that lies beneath it.

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said this week that the property’s owners—listed in town records as 3-D Associates and the Captree Group LLC, both of which are based in Brooklyn—have recently been in discussions with the town about a possible sale. For the past decade, both companies have had preliminary approval from the Southampton Town Planning Board to build the subdivision, called “Woodfield Gables,” though the application has been gathering dust since then.

Mr. Schneiderman confirmed this week that the town is now evaluating the land, which is actually four properties all owned by the same two corporations and sit on the northwest corner of Old Country and Speonk-Riverhead roads, and that it could eventually make an offer using proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund. He also noted that the town has a willing seller—one of the prerequisites to pursue a possible purchase.

“It is a property that we are appraising, I believe,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We are considering and looking into preserving that property, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. We first have to see how the appraisals come in.”

Community Preservation Fund Manager Mary Wilson confirmed this week that the town is considering the purchase, saying that it is still early in the evaluation process. At this point, she said, it is too soon to know how much the town would be willing to pay for the land if the Town Board even agrees to purchase it due to the preexisting environmental concerns.

According to Ms. Wilson, environmentalists in her department will complete a full evaluation of the property before a proposal is brought before the Town Board for consideration. That evaluation will examine the historical and town records regarding 
the property. The report will then be presented to the board, whose members will decide if additional testing is required, or whether the purchase should move forward.

Typically, CPF reviews take anywhere from four to six months to finalize. “The town would have to make a decision based on the assessments,” Ms. Wilson said. “If reports indicated certain contaminants, it will be up to the board to make a determination.”

As per town records, the 160.5 acres is actually comprised of four lots: a 6.5-acre property valued at $417,570; a 27.7-acre lot assessed at $1.2 million; a 36.2-acre property assessed at $2.7 million; and a 90.1-acre lot assessed at $5.6 million.

Randall Weichbrodt, the attorney representing the owners in the negotiations, was not immediately available for comment this week.

News that the town is considering such a large purchase for preservation purposes was greeted this week with the support of hamlet residents, including many who are upset with the town’s support of plans to build a 38-unit apartment affordable housing complex on North Phillips Avenue in Speonk, just south of the train station. Several additional projects have been proposed for the corridor in recent months, fueling concerns about overdevelopment and its potential impact on the community, including increases in traffic and bumps in enrollment in local schools.

“The preservation of this property without development will help protect and preserve our groundwater, provide more open space for native species, and maintain the rural character of our community,” Remsenburg Association President James Mendelson wrote in a letter addressed to the Town Board on behalf of his civic organization.

Craig Catalanotto, who has been working to combat overdevelopment in his hometown of Speonk and is co-founder of the Remsenburg, Eastport, Speonk Communities United, or RESCU, organization, said this week he hopes the town moves forward with preservation plans, explaining that such a large purchase would ease the concerns of many of his neighbors. Earlier this week, the RESCU organization sent a notice to its members encouraging them to write the Town Board, which several have done already, in support of the proposal to buy the 160.5-acre property.

“I’d be very happy with a town CPF purchase of Woodfield Gables,” Mr. Catalanotto said in an email. “We did ask community members to email letters of support to the Southampton Community Preservation Advisory Board, and I know that quite a few people did.

“That’s 160 acres of land that could be subdivided to accommodate up to 58 single-family dwellings,” he continued. “If developed, that project could very well overwhelm the [Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary] school.”

The Woodfield Gables subdivision was the center of controversy when the application was first filed a decade ago, in 2006. Shortly after preliminary approval was granted by its Planning Board, the town learned of a 1.5-mile-long toxic chemical plume that ran directly under the property. Although planning officials originally said an extensive environmental review was not necessary for the proposal, the discovery of the plume changed that, prompting the Planning Board to rescind its earlier approval. A source of the contamination, which is actually at least four different chemicals, all of which has been historically used as metal degreasers, has never been pinpointed though some experts believe that it predates World War II.

Still, preliminary approval for the subdivision was again granted in November 2008, after the developer was required to add specific covenants, such as installing vapor barriers under the foundations of the houses to protect those inside from potential fumes. A formal application was never filed, however.

Today, some in the community are still worried that new homes could eventually be built on the land, potentially endangering future homeowners while also burdening the single-school district. The subdivision is one of five that could alter the landscape in the area. Two of the other projects—the Estates at Remsenburg and the Serenity Estates in Speonk—have already been approved and will add 32 single-family homes to the area combined. The other two projects, located at 41 and 85 North Phillips Avenue, are still pending and in the early application phases.

The first lot, known locally as The Castle property and measuring 4.28 acres, could be redeveloped as a 38-unit apartment complex. That project is being proposed by Georgica Green Ventures Inc. of Jericho, a for-profit company that has the support of the Southampton Housing Authority. The second proposal, targeting 85 North Phillips Avenue, has been pitched by All Island Purchase Corp. of Centereach. In that instance, the developer wants to build apartments on seven acres. Both projects are being pitched as affordable housing initiatives.

Jennifer Hartnagel, senior environmental advocate for the Group for the East End—a local environmental advocacy group—said this week that her organization supports the town buying the Woodfield Gables property. She said that such an acquisition would eliminate the risks associated with developing over the plume.

“We have every reason to support the acquisition as the plume is an issue for this point in time, but it will migrate and the protection of the land above will help to assure clean water recharge,” she said. “The protection of the property also assures that the site will never again introduce contaminants or development density into an area that is already facing overdevelopment.”

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