As Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman scrambles to build support prior to a December 5 vote on proposed special zoning to allow a golf resort development in East Quogue—a measure that is most likely going to fail—the developer behind the project is already exploring new avenues that could secure its golf course under current zoning.
Mr. Schneiderman said this week that he is still trying to find “the best proposal I can,” namely by pitching new ideas, including the suggestion of adding public access to what is currently slated to be a private and exclusive golf course, to his fellow board members.
But at the same time, attorneys for Discovery Land Company of Arizona, the developer behind “The Hills at Southampton,” are poring over the town’s own code and are confident that they could come up a plan that achieves their main goal—the building of a private golf course—without having to navigate the town’s cumbersome, and now outlawed, planned development district application process.
The supervisor said Town Attorney James Burke will seek an opinion from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on whether the existing town code actually offers Discovery Land other paths to putting a golf course on more than 600 acres in East Quogue as an amenity for a luxury housing subdivision.
When reached on Monday, Mr. Burke said “it’s possible” for Discovery Land to build a golf course as a recreational use for a traditional subdivision, if it is forced to abandon its planned development district, though he also emphasized that he does not yet know if the developer would pursue that option. “I haven’t heard anything just yet,” Mr. Burke said.
Currently, the Town Board is considering the creation of a PDD—it is the last one under consideration as the law allowing the special zoning was repealed earlier this year—to allow the golf course and 118 estates on the property. The PDD requires four of five board members to support it, and both Councilwoman Julie Lofstad and Councilman John Bouvier have indicated that they will be “no” votes on December 5.
But Wayne D. Bruyn, a Southampton attorney representing Discovery, sent a letter in October to Town Hall inquiring about a little-used zoning designation currently in the town code. Known as an “open space conservation and park district,” it allows “land in public and private ownership” to be set aside for recreational uses like tennis courts, nature preserves and parks—and, the code specifies, golf courses.
Mr. Schneiderman noted that the designation has been used primarily to lower property assessments for tax purposes, as the recreational use would replace underlying residential development rights and would remain in place permanently. Should Discovery Land explore the idea, it could file an application for a zone change, which requires only three votes instead of four, for a portion of its East Quogue property. That likely would reduce the number of houses that could be built, but it might allow a simple Planning Board review for the golf course.
Currently, Mr. Schneiderman noted, the PDD is thought to be the only method for creating a new golf course within the town. But, in fact, in addition to the open space conservation and park district, another path could exist for creation of a golf course via existing town code.
The supervisor noted that several town residents—including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—have golf holes as amenities on their residential properties. Using that as a precedent, it could well be that Discovery Land could include a golf course in its subdivision proposal filed under current zoning. The key, he said, would be that the course would only be available for play by homeowners in the subdivision and their guests—no private memberships could be sold outside the neighborhood.
It’s possible to make an argument, he said, that a golf course can be considered a recreational amenity, just like a pool, tennis court or other permitted uses.
“It does say, though, that the Planning Board ‘may allow’—it doesn’t say ‘shall,’” Mr. Schneiderman noted, adding that it would not be considered open space and thus would considered a developed portion of the property. That could reduce the number of housing units permitted.
The supervisor said he’s asked Mr. Burke to seek an advisory opinion from the ZBA on the matter.
At the same time, Mr. Schneiderman said he is talking with Discovery Land officials about an idea he has for a revision to the PDD proposal currently before the Town Board. It would include a mandate that a certain number of tee times at the golf course—say, 20 percent—would be set aside for public use.
“Then it becomes a public facility,” he said. “Anyone from Southampton Town—it wouldn’t be anyone from the state, but anyone from Southampton—could go there and play. It wouldn’t be as elitist.” He added, “There’d be something in it for the entire community, not just the East Quogue community.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he’s also encouraged Discovery Land officials to consider a pledge to use organic methods on its fairways. Both that idea and the public access are designed to try to swing both public opinion and at least one of his Democratic colleagues to vote in favor of the PDD, giving it the necessary four votes.
“Would making it quasi-public, would creating some public use, move some of the opposition over? I’m not sure,” he said.
Regardless, Mr. Schneiderman said the vote will happen on December 5.
Discovery Land Vice President Mark Hissey acknowledged that the company is examining both options related to new paths for a golf course via the subdivision process, which would sidestep the Town Board.
“I will welcome any kind of discourse,” he said in response to Mr. Schneiderman’s proposal for public access to the planned private golf course. “Yeah, you bet—makes no difference to me at all. If the community benefits, great.”
He left no doubt, however, that despite facing a potential failure of the PDD application on December 5, Discovery Land is committed to including the amenity as part of its plans for a luxury development in East Quogue: “We will have golf. We will have golf.”