An unnamed and anonymous group of East Quogue citizens is aiming to take down a proposed development that could bring between 82 and 116 new luxury homes, along with an 18-hole golf course, to the hamlet.
However, little is known about the group members beyond their opposition to the project, which targets 436 acres of partially disturbed land that extends from the intersection of Lewis and Spinney roads north and across Sunrise Highway, based on environmental concerns.
Former Southampton Town Board member Carolyn Zenk, the lawyer representing the mysterious group of fewer than a dozen community members, compiled a several-hundred-page document building the case for the Town Board to rescind its preliminary approval of the proposed The Hills at Southampton Mixed-Use Planned Development District (MUPDD). She hand-delivered the document to board members last week.
She also distributed copies of the document to The Press and leaders of other East Quogue community groups, such as the hamlet’s Civic Association and Citizens Advisory Committee—who said they had no prior knowledge of the group’s existence.
“I’m surprised if there’s a person, or a group of people, that are opposed to the development that aren’t already linked up with us,” East Quogue Civic Association President Al Algieri said Tuesday, adding that he doesn’t know who is behind the new group.
Members of his group also oppose the project. But, he added: “I always feel if you can’t put your name on something, you shouldn’t be doing it. But it doesn’t hurt our cause.”
“I wish they would have let us know what it is they wanted to do,” East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee President Joan Hughes said. “I haven’t a clue.”
Ms. Zenk is an environmental lawyer from Hampton Bays who also works with the conservation organization Group for the East End. She declined multiple requests to identify her clients, although she said she would bill them as much as $400 per hour for the 40 to 60 hours she spent compiling the numerous independent studies and legal documentation—a cost that could have been eliminated if she had only reached out to the civic organization, Mr. Algieri contends. He explained that his members have already compiled the same information.
Ms. Zenk argues that the Town Board should not have gone forward with the plan because the “chemical carpet” of fertilizers and pesticides required to maintain a golf course would be too harmful to the nearby Weesuck Creek watershed. She also stated that the MUPDD, as now proposed, would not provide any of the necessary community benefits called for by the town law—namely, the addition of park space, affordable housing, or elder or child care facilities.
Ms. Zenk said the town should get out now before the developer, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, invests too much money in the application process, which could potentially lead to a costly lawsuit if the Town Board ultimately decides to reject the application. “They should back out now,” she said last Thursday afternoon. “I think their putting the noose around their own neck by moving forward.”
Ms. Zenk added that her clients would rather see the property developed as of right—current 5-acre zoning would permit the construction of 82 single-family homes on the land. But she also said current zoning requires the developer to preserve at least 65 percent of the land as open space. Additionally, she noted that the Town Planning Board still has a great deal of say regarding subdivisions and could impose stricter regulations on the land, an ability that many believe is held only by the Town Board under a PDD.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Town Board members Brad Bender and Christine Scalera did not return calls this week seeking comment on Ms. Zenk’s report.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, the only board member to vote against the pre-application, said Ms. Zenk’s findings only reaffirm her stance. “What they proposed was the as-of-right density, plus a golf course, and in exchange for that they offer absolutely nothing in terms of public benefits,” Ms. Fleming said.
Councilman Stan Glinka, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he had not seen the document yet, but that he and the other board members are still in the process of vetting the proposal. He added that he and the other board members who approved the pre-application in January did so because of the potential benefits to the community.
“The [East Quogue] school district would benefit greatly from the increased tax revenue,” Mr. Glinka said, “and it would also create jobs in the town, because the developers said they would hire local people.”
Wayne Bruyn, the attorney representing the developers, said he and his clients have not been given a copy of Ms. Zenk’s report, nor has she ever reached out to them. He added that he did not want to comment on the document without being able to review it.
However, he said it was “odd and ethically questionable” for Ms. Zenk to be commenting on behalf of a group opposed to the plan without naming her clients. He also questioned why she is raising these points now rather than during a formal public hearing.
“She is again either too late to address the PreSubmission [sic] application, or premature to comment on the final application,” Mr. Bruyn wrote in an email. “Nonetheless, hopefully, she can supply us with a copy of her correspondence so that we can open a dialogue with her clients and address her concerns in our final application.”
The original incarnation of The Hills at Southampton proposal came in 2009, when the East Quogue Group LLC, the owner of the 436-acre property, first pitched the idea for a golf community with 111 homes. That planned fizzled during a multiple year moratorium brought on by community opposition.
Last year, the East Quogue Group and its new primary partner, Discovery Land Company, introduced a pre-application for a new development that proposed 82 houses and promised nearly $3.5 million in annual school tax revenue while adding no children to the East Quogue School District. The Mixed Use PDD would enable the Town Board to change the zoning for an otherwise non-conforming use, in this case an 86.3-acre golf course in an area that’s zoned residential. The board approved the pre-application in January, allowing the developer to move forward with a formal application.
But less than a month after securing approval, the developers held a public meeting in East Quogue to announce their intention of buying additional land to the east and transferring the development rights for 36 homes from those new parcels to the main property. They now want to construct 118 luxury homes on the 436 acres, up from 82, and still build the golf course.
“It’s bait and switch, and I don’t think it’s constitutional,” Ms. Zenk said.
The developers, however, have not yet included the additional houses in their PDD proposal, and they maintain that they are able to make adjustments before filing a formal application.
Although a substantial part of the land has been disturbed by sand mining, Ms. Zenk argues that a golf course is an inappropriate use for land that falls within the compatible growth area of the Pine Barrens. She explained that because the land sits higher than other parts of the Weesuck Creek watershed, the introduction of pollutants, such as pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, along with nitrogen-rich fertilizers, would threaten both the drinking water and local waterways.
“It is the headwater of the stream,” she said. “You do not put a golf course at the headwater of your stream.”