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May 15, 2019 4:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pine Barrens Commission Reaffirms Jurisdiction Over East Quogue Golf Course Proposal

Bruce Tria of East Quogue addressed the Central Pine Barrens Commission in support of the proposed golf course resort on Wednesday. VALERIE GORDON
May 21, 2019 1:31 PM

The Central Pine Barrens Commission has officially reaffirmed an earlier stance, asserting jurisdiction over a proposal to build a luxury golf course resort in East Quogue.

With a resolution approved on Wednesday, May 15, the commission reserves the right to review the project and make a determination as to whether it complies with the Pine Barrens Protection Act.

The commission had previously asserted jurisdiction over a similar iteration of the project, known as “The Hills at Southampton,” back in October 2015.

At the commission’s meeting last week, held at the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley, John Milazzo, who serves as special counsel to the Pine Barrens Commission, explained that given the similarity between The Hills and the development’s new iteration, the Lewis Road Planned Residential District, the commission’s jurisdiction was still valid.

He added that the resolution, which passed with four votes in favor and one abstention—by Suffolk County representative Andrew Freleng, the chief planner—essentially “tightens up” the commission’s pre-existing assertion.

Additionally, the resolution explained that the commission would continue to have jurisdiction over the project even if it undergoes another name change. Any potential projects that were described as being “substantially similar” to The Hills or the Lewis Road PRD also fall under the commission’s reaffirmed jurisdiction.

As part of the resolution, proposed by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, the commission’s review of the project will commence upon the Southampton Town Planning Board’s completion of the applicant’s preliminary application.

The Planning Board is currently in the process of determining whether an additional environmental impact statement, or EIS, is needed in order to move forward with the project. A Pine Barrens Commission review will come within 30 days following that determination.

“The commission acknowledges its current inability to determine the ‘full scope’ of Lewis Road application because of the Planning Board’s ongoing review and the potential for modifications,” the resolution read.

“I want us to review the final project,” Mr. Romaine added. “I am willing to wait until the Planning Board acts.”

Following the Planning Board’s determination, the Pine Barrens Commission will compile a selective list of elements to review. The regulatory board is then required by law to release the details of the application to the commission.

Mr. Romaine’s resolution was modified slightly after Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who sits on the Pine Barrens Commission, raised the question as to whether the commission’s previous assertion was still applicable. He later voted for the revised resolution.

Originally, Mr. Romaine’s resolution asked board members to vote on asserting jurisdiction over the developer’s revised proposal. However, after advice from Mr. Milazzo, the resolution was modified to reaffirm jurisdiction based on the earlier ruling.

Prior to that modification, Discovery Land Company’s representative, Wayne Bruyn of Southampton-based O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn, had written a letter to the Pine Barrens Commission arguing that Mr. Romaine’s resolution was unlawful under the Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The letter, Mr. Romaine said, had been circulated only among the members of the Pine Barrens Commission. He called it “absolutely inappropriate” that a draft copy of his proposed resolution made its way into Mr. Bruyn’s hands.

In his letter to the commission, Mr. Bruyn referenced the draft agenda item. He pointed to Section 4.5.6 of the land use plan, which explains that the commission can adopt a “sense” resolution—essentially, a notice of action or intent—only if certain circumstances apply.

It reads, “With respect to a development project undergoing review pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act by another government agency and which is also a pending application being processed and reviewed by the commission.”

Mr. Bruyn argued that the developer’s application is currently under review by only the Southampton Town Planning Board.

However, under the developer’s original proposal—The Hills at Southampton—the commission was considered an involved agency. According to Mr. Milazzo, the original SEQRA review triggered a clause in the Pine Barrens Protection Act that automatically gave the commission jurisdiction over the project.

The commission automatically asserts jurisdiction over any project proposed to be built in the Pine Barrens “critical resource area,” or has been determined as a “development of regional significance.”

The previous EIS found the project to be a development of regional significance as it constituted “a development project resulting in a traffic impact which would reduce service by two levels below existing conditions or to a level of service of D or below.”

Details of the former project never made it to the commission, however, as shortly after the SEQRA determination, the project, in its entirety, was denied by the Southampton Town Board.

The commissioners believe that they are entitled to reaffirm jurisdiction as the Lewis Road PRD project is “substantially similar” to The Hills.

In fact, Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, argued that the developers, as well as Mr. Bruyn, have already testified that the projects are “identical.”

He said that the applicant’s representatives did so at a Planning Board meeting earlier this year when arguing that a supplemental environmental impact study was unnecessary.

At the time, Mr. Bruyn had pointed to a SEQRA Compliance Analysis, completed by Melville-based Nelson Pope & Voorhis, which found the revisions to the original proposal to be inconsequential.

Charles Voorhis, who was hired by Discovery Land to complete the report, referred to several aspects of the developer’s plan, which he wrote are identical to The Hills.

“By design, the Lewis Road Planned Residential District incorporates all of the on-site aspects and features of the Hills Planned Development District with respect to groundwater and surface water quality and health protection,” the report read. “In this way, the Lewis Road PRD would, like The Hills PDD, not result in any significant adverse impacts on groundwater or surface water resources. As a result, the proposed project is consistent with the findings statement and no significant adverse impact is expected.”

In this vein, Mr. Amper argued, “the Pine Barrens Commission can review the project … as both the current and past project are identical.”

Mr. Milazzo added, “If it’s represented to the commission that the project is the same, the jurisdiction is still valid.”

Central Pine Barrens Executive Director John Pavacic explained that the commission is now bound by a 120-day deadline to render a determination of whether the application complies with the Pine Barrens Protection Act.

However, he added that if the commission does not receive a copy of the application within that time, due to it still being reviewed by the Planning Board, it must request an extension from the applicant.

If that extension is not granted, the commission would move to deny the project “without prejudice”—meaning Discovery Land would still be permitted to resubmit the application.

At that point, he said, “The door is still open.”

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Hooray, common sense wins! Thank you, Ed Romaine, for leading the charge.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on May 15, 19 10:41 PM
3 members liked this comment
Why wait for Town decision? Check it out now.
By Taz (725), East Quogue on May 17, 19 10:47 AM
... are they saying the Pine Barrens Commission has no authority over the biggest development ever proposed in the Pine Barrens or is it that discovery land is again the victim and being unnecessarily pestered by the agencies that are charged with protecting the environment and the Pine Barrens? Or is it both?
By William Rodney (561), southampton on May 17, 19 2:44 PM