The Southampton Town Board on Tuesday gave a green light to the would-be developers of a 400-acre golf course and housing development in East Quogue to file an official application for a change of zone that would make way for the sprawling “Hills at Southampton” project.
The board voted 4-1 to let the application proceed, with Councilwoman Bridget Fleming casting the lone vote against it after imploring her fellow board members to kill the proposal and let the developers build the 82 homes the area’s existing residential zoning would allow if they decided to do so—but not an accompanying golf course.
“The applicant is asking us to permit the as-of-right housing … and they’re asking us to grant the additional 86 acres of a golf course and a 54,000-square-foot clubhouse,” Ms. Fleming said. “I feel that the right decision at this juncture, rather than string the developer along, is to deny the request to submit a full application.”
Ms. Fleming said that the purported “community benefit” of the project, as outlined in the preliminary application, was little more than what town codes would apply on their own and fall far short of what the benefits should be—especially considering the developers’ own projections of a 20-fold increase in the value of the property were the zone change to be granted.
But other members said the board would be passing up the opportunity both to lessen the environmental impacts of such a large development and to reap true community benefits over what the as-of-right housing development would present.
“Whenever a developer comes in, they’ve got a wish list, like a child for Santa Claus,” Councilman Brad Bender said. “But let’s see what we can walk that back to. This is not a stamp of approval. This is just the start of a conversation. When we get to the other end of that conversation, we may find that it is a no.”
Mr. Bender noted that the septic systems that would be required were the property to be developed as of right would remove no nitrogen from the wastewater seeping into the ground. With the application for a Mixed Use Planned Development District—a special overlay zoning designation that would give the Town Board the option of allowing development currently outlawed by zoning, in exchange for a series of conditions—the town could require that a state-of-the-art septic treatment system and other mitigations be used to significantly lower the overall negative impacts on regional groundwater from the project.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst defended the board against some criticisms that it should be looking toward preserving the property from any development at all—a effort it has already made, and one that fell short. “The Town Board did everything it could to try to preserve this property,” she said. “We did what we could under the parameters of the Community Preservation Fund … to make an offer as high as we possibly could. We did that, and that offer was rejected.”
Ms. Throne-Holst noted that not all environmental advocates had even supported the expensive attempt to preserve the property, even if it had been successful, because zoning codes would require that the 82 lots allowed be clustered onto just 20 percent of the property, the rest remaining as open space. The designs of the PDD development would spread the golf course and houses throughout the entire property, though the developers have claimed that 75 percent of the property would still remain undisturbed.
While many residents blasted the project, business community representatives have touted the PDD application as having a substantially different potential impact on area taxes than the as-of-right subdivision would. The developers have proposed that they could employ residency restrictions on the residential units on the property to ensure that none of the tenants was using the property as a permanent residence from which children could attend area schools. When compared to the potential of as many as 30 children coming into the schools from the 82 houses the developers are entitled to, the boost to taxes from the PDD development would gigantic, supporters said.
“This is no longer a choice between preservation and development,” said former town supervisor Patrick Heaney, a resident of East Quogue. “It’s the choice between a subdivision that cannot be highly regulated by the Town Board … or a Planned Development District that can be highly regulated. It’s a choice between lawns and cesspools that will deinitley introduce unregulated levels of nitrogen to surface and groundwaters, or rigorous groundwater monitoring and maintenance practices that have been employed successful at The Bridge and Sebonack [golf clubs].
“It’s a choice between a subifidivon that will raise taxes by adding another 60-80 children to the distrct, or a PDD that will add $3.5 million in new revenue to lower taxes, and no students,” he continued.
The developers will attend an informational forum on the application at the East Quogue Elementary School on Thursday, February 6, at 7 p.m.
Several area residents and an attorney representing the East Quogue Civic Association, implored the town to reject the application because of environmental concerns.