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Oct 29, 2019 3:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Planning Board Races Against The Clock To Approve East Quogue Golf Course Preliminary Applications

Southampton Town Planning Board member Robin Long at the October 24 board work session. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Oct 29, 2019 3:59 PM

Southampton Town Planning Board members approved the preliminary subdivision and site plan applications, as well as the environmental findings statement, for a proposal to build a golf course resort in East Quogue, at their meeting on Thursday, October 24, in 4-3 votes.

The developer, Discovery Land Company, has an application before the town titled Lewis Road PRD to construct 118 units, an 18-hole private golf course and other private recreational facilities on 588 acres of land, 65 percent of which would be open space, in the Central Pine Barrens Overlay District and Aquifer Protection Overlay District.

The board was on an action deadline to approve or deny the findings statement and preliminary applications in two separate votes, so members devoted about a seven-hour block that day to review dozens of pages of material in order to come to their decisions. Some other applications on the agenda were rescheduled to give board members more time.

If they refused to vote, the statement and application would have been approved by default.

Board members voted the same way both times. Those who voted in favor included Vice Chairman Dennis Finnerty, Secretary Philip Keith, John Zuccarelli and John Blaney, and those who voted against were Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro, Robin Long and Glorian Berk.

The board granted conditional approval to the preliminary subdivision and site plan applications — two separate applications that were reviewed concurrently — and Discovery Land must now meet all of the conditions before submitting a final application to the Planning Board.

The subdivision has 22 conditions and the site plan has nine. As part of the subdivision conditions, the application must obtain approval from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the Central Pine Barrens Commission, the latter of which deemed the project not currently in compliance, as stated in a recent memo sent to the board.

“They've got a lot of work to do,” Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End and a member of the Pine Barrens Commission’s advisory committee, said of Discovery Land now needing to go before the Pine Barrens Commission.

“Part of the thing is that they have a preliminary subdivision with a certain configuration right now. And if the commission needs to alter or change that, they're going to also have to change that at the town level as well,” Mr. DeLuca continued.

The board members who voted “no” on Thursday expressed their discomfort and frustration several times during the meeting about having to vote that day, saying that they needed more time to read through and digest the extensive material before them. But they did not formally request an extension ahead of time from Discovery Land like they did in the past, which allowed the original October 9 deadline to be extended to October 24.

The prior extension was granted so that the board could review final advisory comments from the Pine Barrens Commission and the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

The Pine Barrens Commission sent a 15-page memo to the board on October 17, which concluded that the project was not in compliance with the standards and guidelines of the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan, or CLUP. Commission members voted in favor of sending the comments, in a 4-1 vote, the day prior.

The Planning Commission could not vote on its comments because not enough members were present to carry the resolution. So by default, the Planning Commission approved of the project by the lack of a vote.

The Town Planning Board had to consider those judgments in addition to Town Planner Kyle Collins’s response comments to the Pine Barrens Commission memo that acted to provide “corrections and clarifications,” the response read, which the board received a few days prior to the latest meeting. They also had a draft staff report from the town’s planning department.

The day of the meeting was the first time the board looked at the 26-page environmental findings statement that summarized the conclusions of the project’s draft and final environmental impact statements, or EIS’s. The statement was prepared by consultant B. Liang Associates in conjunction with the planning division of the town’s department of land management, which Mr. Collins heads.

Board members spent hours going over every section of the findings statement with Michael Bontje, president of the consulting firm, pointing out ways in which it should be modified. They took a 30-minute recess from 1 to 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bontje agreed to make the revisions discussed, but in order to meet the action deadline, the board had to vote on the statement before seeing the final version. The consultant left immediately after the vote to revise the statement and send it to the appropriate officials.

The findings statement review took place during the morning work session, which ran from 10:50 a.m. to 3:45 a.m., spilling over into the afternoon meeting that was supposed to start at 2 p.m.

During the afternoon meeting, board members voted on the positive findings statement and then went on to review the draft staff report from the planning department and vote on the overall preliminary subdivision and site plan applications. Similar to the first process, the board discussed the staff report with Principal Planner Anthony Trezza and asked for certain revisions to be made. They had to vote without seeing the updated report due to their deadline.

Ms. Lofaro, Ms. Long and Ms. Berk had a visibly difficult time making their decisions.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility to make an informed decision and vote based on my conscience and what I keep saying to you is my conscience cannot, at this point, make an informed decision because I haven't been given the time to read,” said Ms. Long, who was the most vocal about her aggravation of the narrow time frame. “This is not an unreasonable request.”

“I have total respect for board member Long's concerns, but as counsel has pointed out, we're on an action deadline and not acting is just not possible,” Mr. Keith responded. “So I think we should take the lessons we've learned in this process, move forward and apply them in the next phase of this application and making sure that these things don't happen again.”

Mr. Keith blamed the lack of time on the Pine Barrens Commission, because it submitted its comments late, especially when it had months to prepare. But commission staff admitted that they were not aware that the board was requesting such a memo from them until September 18.

“I think you've got to put a major portion of the blame where it belongs and that's the Pine Barrens Commission. They had six months to respond to this,” Mr. Keith said.

When it was Ms. Berk’s turn to announce her vote for the findings statement, she said she was choosing whether to abstain from voting or vote “no,” and decided on the latter. Ms. Long voted “resoundingly no” for the findings statement.

Discovery Land’s attorney, Wayne Bruyn, reminded board members that they knew about the timeline when the last extension was granted a month ago on September 26.

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Wow - this is some process we've got in place - I'm happy that a process this dumb is being used to evaluate one of the largest development applications in SH town, things will definitely go well!
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Oct 31, 19 9:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
Kyle Collins’s response impartial-NOT!!!WHo is this guy and why does he have such power?
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Oct 31, 19 10:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
From 27east, 2017:

The board interviewed Ms. Eisenberg and two other candidates back in May but made no appointments and held no other interviews until Mr. Collins sat for a 40-minute interview with the board earlier this month. He will make $117,300 per year.

“We’re getting long-term knowledge of working within the Town of Southampton and a combination of experience in the community and in Town Hall,” Councilman Chris Nuzzi said of Mr. Collins, who worked in ...more
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Oct 31, 19 11:39 AM
1 member liked this comment
Are you just trying to answer Taz's question or are you trying to make a point? Since there is no real planning process in the TO"S, it is ridden with potential conflicts of interest and undue influences. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I am pretty sure that Kyle received a substantial raise from the current administration and is/has been on the "top paid" list at the TOS. The HBDOD was a complete "bait and switch" l"dog and pony show" led by Kyle Collins. Notwithstanding ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Nov 1, 19 2:38 PM