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Jun 10, 2019 4:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Discovery Land's Representative Respond To Planning Board's Request For Additional Information

Discovery Land's representative, Steven Barshov, responded to the Southampton Town Planning Board's request for additional information on the project last week. VALERIE GORDON
Jun 12, 2019 11:06 AM

The Southampton Town Planning Board is inching forward with its evaluation of a proposal to build a luxury golf course resort in East Quogue.

Last week, the regulatory board received two detailed reports from Steven Barshov of New York City-based Sive, Paget & Riesel, and Charles Voorhis of Nelson Pope & Voorhis, who are representing the developer, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company.

Mr. Barshov’s letter, dated May 9, was in response to the Planning Board’s request for additional information about the project, which includes a 118-unit housing subdivision and 18-hole golf course off Spinney Road.

The Planning Board hired consultants with B. Laing Associates earlier this year to determine whether an additional environmental study, an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS—part of the required State Environmental Quality Review Act review process—was needed to move forward with the application.

A previous environmental study was reviewed, and approved, by the Southampton Town Board in 2017—back when the applicant was seeking a now-defunct change of zone for an earlier iteration of the project, known as The Hills at Southampton.

After failing to obtain the necessary support from the Town Board, Discovery Land revised the project to adhere to existing zoning by limiting the use of the proposed golf course to only the residents of the proposed subdivision and their non-paying guests.

Originally, the developer had planned to offer private memberships in exchange for golf course access.

In addition to limiting golf course membership, the applicant added 10 on-site affordable housing rentals, as well as two off-site workforce housing units along Old Country Road.

The revised plan, known as the Lewis Road PRD, also calls for splitting the resort’s clubhouse into four separate single- and two-story buildings, rather than a single two-and-a-half-story structure.

However, the main catalyst driving the Planning Board’s decision to request additional information from Discovery Land was based on a mutual concern that under the revised proposal, the developer would be able to offer the resort’s 118-units as year-round residences.

Under the original plan, Discovery Land had agreed to enter into a covenant with the Town of Southampton prohibiting full-time occupancy in an effort to minimize the development’s impact on traffic and the neighboring school district.

However, earlier this year, members of the Planning Board pointed to a decision made by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which allowed the developer to build the 18-hole golf course as a recreational amenity to the subdivision under a little-used portion of the town code known as a planned residential district, or PRD.

Planning Board members noted that the ZBA’s decision rendered the revised project an “as-of-right” application—which they said essentially voids the previously agreed upon covenant.

The letter, prepared by Michael Bontje, president of B. Laing Associates, read: “At the February 28, 2019 Planning Board work session, a number of the members stated their belief that it may not be possible for the Planning Board to condition an approval based upon seasonality … If this is correct, the result would be that the seasonal use of properties could not be guaranteed.”

To ease those concerns, Planning Board members were advised by Mr. Bontje to request an additional planning analysis from the applicant to address the potential environmental impact of a full-time residential subdivision.

However, according to Mr. Barshov’s letter, Discovery Land has no intention of allowing the development to have full-time residents. He added that the proposed project does not constitute an “as-of-right” application, since discretionary approvals are required: “The Lewis Road PRD subdivision is not ‘as-of-right,’ and reasonable conditions and covenants may be imposed by the Planning Board on a subdivision approval”—seemingly opening the door to the Planning Board requiring seasonal residency as a condition of approval.

He added on Monday that an “as-of-right project is a project where one can walk in and say, ‘Hi, I’d like a building permit, please.’”

To reiterate his point, Mr. Barshov pointed to Round Dune in East Quogue, as well as Yardam and La Coquille waterfront communities in Westhampton Beach, which have similar occupancy restrictions. He added that “there is no proposed change to the occupancy restriction and covenant from the PDD to the PRD.”

Under the proposal, the golf course and resort is expected to operate from mid-April to mid-October.

Mr. Barshov argued in his letter to the Planning Board that its request for a separate review analyzing full-time occupancy was “unlawful” under SEQRA and beyond the scope of the board’s jurisdiction.

“SEQRA does not allow a lead agency to speculate about the future, such as speculating that the Lewis Road PRD covenants prohibiting full-time occupancy would be abandoned or not enforced,” he wrote.

According to case law, he said that when determining whether a supplemental EIS is needed, the lead agency is only permitted to review the changes proposed by the applicant.

During a phone interview on Monday, he added that “it does not include the municipality saying, ‘You know what? We want to look at a different project—instead of seasonal, we want to look at it as full-time.’”

He explained that, when compared to The Hills, the applicant’s revised project, with the elimination of the private membership golf course, would ultimately result in less traffic.

According to a trip generation comparison, completed as part of an “alternative” plan included in the original EIS, weekday morning traffic is expected to decrease from 63 to 31 vehicles per hour. Additionally, weekday evening traffic is expected to decrease from 103 to 39 vehicles per hour, and 125 to 51 on Saturday.

With the inclusion of the 12 full-time workforce housing units, the proposed project is expected to generate a total of two to three school-age children, according to documents completed by Mr. Voorhis.

In coordination with the town’s Housing and Community Development Office, low-rise residential apartments are projected to generate 0.07 children for a one-bedroom unit, whereas two- and three-bedroom units are expected to generate 0.16 and 0.63 children, respectively.

The developer’s proposal calls for a combination of five, one-bedroom workforce housing units, five, two-bedroom units and two, three-bedroom units.

“As a result, there will be no significant adverse impact on the East Quogue School District,” Mr. Voorhis wrote.

A traffic study, based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers trip generation manual—completed as part of the applicant’s “alternative” plan included in the original EIS—estimated that the workforce housing units would generate five to six vehicles per hour during peak times.

At several Planning Board meetings held over the past few months, members had also expressed interest in requiring that all of the 600-square-foot units be built on the developer’s 591-acre Lewis Road property.

In Mr. Voorhis’s 33-page response, he noted that Discovery Land would agree to construct the 12 units on-site rather than pay into the town’s affordable housing fund, which allows town officials to build affordable housing elsewhere within Southampton Town.

Mr. Barshov added that the revised project, on all other fronts, was “virtually identical” to The Hills PDD and therefore does not require an additional environmental review.

“In all material respects, the Lewis Road PRD subdivision is a lesser version of the previously reviewed Hills PDD subdivision,” Mr. Barshov wrote. He called the Planning Board’s request for additional information “a thinly veiled attempt to revisit matters which were fully analyzed” previously.

“It is very basic and well established under SEQRA that a project which is a lesser version of a previously analyzed larger project would not have the potential to generate any new significant adverse environmental impacts and, thus would not require preparation of a Supplemental EIS.”

Mr. Barshov added that further attempts made by the Southampton Town Planning Board to delay the project would result in further litigation against the town.

In April 2018, Discovery Land filed a $100 million lawsuit against Southampton Town—specifically targeting board members John Bouvier and Julie Lofstad, who voted against The Hills proposal in 2017.

“I would love to avoid it—no one wants to keep suing the town,” he said on Monday. “Think about this … how long do you need to take to evaluate an application that’s been completely reviewed, completely analyzed? … After a while, you sit there and go, ‘Come on.’”

A number of additional concerns were outlined in Mr. Bontje’s request for additional information, including the potential for partial or fractional ownership.

It also asked the question, posed by several community members and environmentalists, over whether members or owners of Discovery Land’s other properties, such as Dune Deck Beach Club in Westhampton Beach, would be allowed access to the proposed recreational golf course. Both concerns were quashed by Mr. Voorhis, who said that Discovery Land had no intention of permitting either scenario.

“There is no time share nor fractional ownership proposed,” he wrote, adding that “only those parties that own units at the Lewis Road PRD, and their guests, would have access to the golf course.

“Cross-use of [Discovery Land Company] golf courses is not part of the corporate practice,” he continued. “DLC golf courses are each distinct clubs, such that the golf course is an on-site recreational amenity for use by owners at the subject community only.”

An additional concern raised by members of the town’s Planning Board, was the proposed use for several outparcels included within the proposal.

Originally, Discovery Land intended to preserve the 16 lots for open-space purposes. Mr. Voorhis explained in his 33-page response that the developer’s plans for the parcels has not since changed.

Southampton Town’s open space, or ‘cluster law,’ echoes state law and requires that 65 percent of a developable property be preserved for open space—a restriction that, according to the existing EIS, is met by both the applicant’s previous and existing proposal.

According to documents prepared by Nelson Pope and Voorhis, the PRD is expected to preserve nearly 428 acres—or 72 percent—of the developer’s property.

The site acreage differs slightly from the PDD to the PRD. The overall site was reduced from 591 acres to 588 acres, according to public documents, in order to create access for several out parcels. Additionally, the proposed golf course is expected to constitute approximately 88 acres, rather than the originally proposed 91 acres.

In fact, he noted that only one of the parcels, owned by Richard Kayser, is large enough at 40,000 square feet to meet the minimum lot size to build according to Southampton Town Code.

In his response, he added that the PRD does not create physical access to the parcel, noting that it is only accessible through an unimproved section off Spinney Road via Serenity Place and Smith Avenue.

Of the 15 additional parcels, six are held by Suffolk County for open space purposes. The letter indicates that the remaining nine are “situated away from the development area or could only serve as Transfer of Development Right, or TDR, sending sites for development elsewhere.”

However, according to previous reporting, the project encompasses two additional properties that could be developed based on current zoning.

Based on PDD documents, a 62-acre plot, owned by the Kracke family, that sits to the west and abuts the main site, was intended to be used to house an entry road into the new development. Currently, the land is zoned residential and can accommodate up to a dozen single-family homes.

The second property measures approximately 94 acres and sits about a half-mile east of Lewis Road PRD property, and was once part of the Parlato family’s proposed Atlanticville subdivision. Up to two dozen single-family homes could be constructed on that undisturbed property, according to current zoning.

Mr. Voorhis wrote in his letter, however, that the Parlato site, as it is commonly referred, will be maintained as open space.

On Monday, Mr. Barshov referred all questions regarding the project’s outparcels to Wayne Bruyn of O’Shea Marcincuk & Bruyn in Southampton. Mr. Bruyn could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Southampton Town Planning Board is expected to meet with Mr. Bontje to discuss Discovery Land’s representatives’ responses to their information request on Thursday, June 13, at 2 p.m. at Southampton Town Hall.

The next action would be to make a determination on whether a supplemental EIS is required in order to move forward with the project.

On Monday, Dennis Finnerty, vice chairman of the Planning Board, explained that the board has not yet reviewed the applicant’s response, and referred questions to Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro.

Ms. Lofaro explained that the board is currently reviewing the responses and deferred all questions and comments regarding the proposal until after meeting with Mr. Bontje. “It’s better to wait until after Thursday,” she said.

At a recent work session, Ms. Lofaro said that if an additional environmental review is not needed, the applicant’s pre-application would be deemed complete.

“I think we’re nearing the tail end of this process,” she said.

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