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Feb 15, 2012 12:45 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Riverside Hotel Project Will Have Much Smaller Footprint To Work With

Feb 15, 2012 12:57 PM

Only two out of the original 20 acres in Riverside on which a 98-room hotel and conference center were supposed to be built are still available for development, board members representing the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association revealed on Monday night.

After trying for the better part of a decade to secure New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Southampton Town approval for her Rivercatwalk project, developer Dede Gotthelf agreed to sell 14 acres of her waterfront property to Suffolk County for $2.4 million last fall. The deal, which removed a large chunk of land from the tax rolls, was finalized in September. At the time, Ms. Gotthelf said she still intended to build her hotel and conference center on the remaining 6 acres.

But Vincent Taldone, the president of FRNCA, said he recently attended a private meeting with Ms. Gotthelf and DEC officials when it was revealed that she can develop only about 2 acres of her remaining land. Mr. Taldone explained that the bulk of her property is wetlands that cannot be built upon.

On Monday night, Mr. Taldone announced that Ms. Gotthelf still is open to building a hotel on the property, but at a smaller scale than originally proposed. He did note that she has been having a difficult time trying to secure DEC approval to build on 4 acres, as she originally planned. Mr. Taldone said the permits most likely will not be approved unless she agrees to develop only 2 acres.

Ms. Gotthelf, who also owns The Southampton Inn in Southampton Village, said on Tuesday night that she has no immediate plans to pursue another project at this time. She added that if local civic group leaders can come up with a plan that’s acceptable to the town and DEC, she would entertain it.

“I’m not developing it right now,” Ms. Gotthelf said. “The community really seems to want this. It would be a good thing for them, if they can make it work. We can talk.”

Bill Fonda, a DEC spokesman, confirmed this week that a pre-application meeting was recently attended by DEC officials and Ms. Gotthelf.

Many Riverside residents were unhappy when Suffolk County decided to preserve a large swath of Ms. Gotthelf’s land, explaining that they believed her Rivercatwalk project could be the commercial anchor the northwest corner of the municipality has been looking for, both in terms of job opportunities and economic rebirth. Most also bemoaned the fact that the land would be removed from the tax rolls.

“We have always been excited for something going up there,” said Northampton resident Chris Sheldon. “Dede is at the drawing board, trying to come up with something that pleases everybody—the DEC, the town and the community.”

At the recent meeting involving Ms. Gotthelf and the DEC, Mr. Taldone said the developer was in the process of drawing up plans for a potential 78-room, four- or five-story hotel. That plan would have required Ms. Gotthelf to secure a special ordinance from the town in order to break its height restrictions. Currently, the town caps commercial structures at 32 feet. Mr. Taldone said he did not foresee a problem on that end, citing recent conversations he had with Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

Ms. Throne-Holst could not be immediately reached for comment.

“We are all in favor of this,” Mr. Taldone said when reached on Tuesday. “We need this for the jobs and we need this for the tax base. As a community, we think this is terrific.”

“Riverside needs something to help jump-start its economy,” Mr. Sheldon added. “I have been going to these meetings for years and there is always hope on the horizon.”

In spite of the latest setback, Mr. Taldone remains hopeful that Ms. Gotthelf’s amended project can secure approval later this year. He said she should be able to file an application within the next few months.

“The shoe is on her foot,” Mr. Sheldon said of Ms. Gotthelf. “The community is in support of her, so this is up to her.”

Affordable Housing Initiative

Also on Monday night, FRNCA members discussed an affordable housing project that the three hamlets have been collectively working on over the past two years.

A few years ago, Suffolk County awarded several foreclosed properties to Southampton Town, with the understanding that affordable houses must be built on them. Seven of those properties are located within Flanders, Riverside and Northampton; the houses are on Flanders Road, Oak Avenue, Flanders Boulevard, Maple Avenue and Oak Street.

“I believe we can find ways to get nice, affordable homes for our community,” said FRNCA board member Brad Bender.

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