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Jan 18, 2016 4:10 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Some Fear Another Sandy Hollow Is In The Works In Speonk

A surveyor from Nelson and Pope surveys the topography of the Castle property in Speonk on Friday. GREG WEHNER
Jan 19, 2016 2:40 PM

A recent State Supreme Court decision threw out a lawsuit filed by neighbors opposing the construction of a 28-unit apartment complex in Tuckahoe, and that ruling has given some residents of Speonk and Remsenburg reason to fret.

More specifically, it has caught the attention of those who oppose plans by the same developer, Georgica Green Ventures of Jericho, to secure a similar change of zoning from the Southampton Town Board to construct a 50-unit workforce housing apartment complex on North Phillips Avenue. They say they are worried that the recent ruling gives the developer a much-needed shot in the arm at what could be a critical juncture for the Speonk project.

They are separate projects: the Tuckahoe complex, dubbed Sandy Hollow, as it will be built on 2.6 acres along Sandy Hollow Road in Tuckahoe; and the still-proposed Speonk complex that targets 4.4 acres possess many similarities. Both require a special zoning change from the Town Board, known as a planned development district; both are fairly intense uses in terms of density; and both seek to provide affordable housing—of which there is a shortage in Southampton Town—to the municipality’s workforce.

And both have the backing of the Southampton Town Housing Authority.

“Just like Sandy Hollow, the Southampton Housing Authority thinks this would be a perfect fit for affordable housing, but they have to change zones,” said Craig Catalanotto, who lives in Speonk and also owns Spire Awards & Gifts in the hamlet.

Mr. Catalanotto has been one of the more vocal opponents of the North Phillips Avenue project, arguing that such a development goes against the town’s master plan for the area and unfairly overburdens the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, the area’s only school.

“We’re all concerned with the Sandy Hollow decision,” added Emily Sanz, who also lives in Speonk. ”We’re concerned because it mirrors the development on 41 North Phillips,” she added, referring to the property on which the Speonk apartment complex would be built. “We were hopeful for a better outcome.”

But David Gallo, the president of Georgica Green Ventures, said this week that he does not think that last month’s ruling on the Sandy Hollow project—which was also fought by some neighbors who argued, ultimately in vain, that the proposed use was too intense for that property—will tilt the board in his company’s favor.

Rather, Mr. Gallo said, he expects town officials will continue to closely review each proposed project, namely, those that are planned development districts or PDDs, on a case-by-case basis, as they have done in the past. All those applications, he noted, must also go through a vigorous review under State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA.

Those attempting to derail the Sandy Hollow project had alleged that the Town Board’s approval of the project had violated SEQRA by not looking closely enough at how the apartment complex would affect traffic, groundwater and wildlife. In his decision handed down on December 29, 2015, State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher stated that the fact that neighbors do not like the town’s decision does not make the project illegal.

“Although the petitioners may not be satisfied with the board’s determinations, they have not produced any competent evidence to controvert the analyses prepared by the board, and thus have not established that it failed to take a ‘hard look’ at the zoning impacts or lacked ‘reasoned elaboration’ for its analyses and findings,” he wrote in his ruling.

Still, Mr. Gallo insists that the decision will not sway the Town Board—the complexion of which has changed considerably in the past month with the arrival of Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Town Councilman John Bouvier—if it is ever asked to vote on his company’s request for a PDD in Speonk.

“[The] Sandy Hollow ruling should have no impact that I can see,” Mr. Gallo wrote in an email. “Each project should [be] reviewed on its merits and each project clearly changes based upon its location, which is why every project reviewed by the town or municipality is subject to SEQRA.”

What’s There Now

The 4.4 acres at 41 North Phillips Avenue, which sits on the west side of the mixed residential and commercial corridor, has been owned by Wantagh-based Sanborn Land LLC since 2003, according to records. And the latest plan for the property, which is being pitched by Georgica Green Ventures, is not entirely new.

As recently as 2012, a different developer—Jay Kopf, the owner of the construction management and general contracting firm CMA Enterprises in Manhattan—sought to redevelop the land in a similar fashion. His tentative plan for the property, which is now zoned a mix of residential and business, was to construct 68 one-bedroom units that would have been marketed to the working class. The project was never approved and the land sale was never finalized.

While it is known locally as “The Castle,” for the dilapidated vacant structure that now sits on it, the property actually features six different buildings: five single-story houses and the aforementioned two-story 10-unit apartment building. Four of the buildings, as well as The Castle, are currently vacant. The sixth is currently occupied by a family.

While it is often called The Castle, others, including local history buffs, recognize it as The Fordham House. The building dates back to at least 1873 and, at one point, was owned by William H. Fordham. In the 1920s, it was known as the Hoag Hospital and, about a decade later, was converted into a boardinghouse and its rooms were often rented to employees of the Long Island Rail Road, according to town records.

Today, the building is a shell of its former self. It is dilapidated and parts of the roof are caving in. There are a number of “No Trespassing” and “Danger: Restricted Area” signs scattered about the property warning people to stay away.

The land itself actually has two different zoning classifications. The R-20 zoning permits the single-family houses on half-acre lots, while the Village Business zoning allows for the current apartment building. Still, the developer would need to secure a change of zone from the Town Board to move forward with his plan for 50 apartments. Mr. Gallo said his team is still investigating how many apartments could be build on the land as of right.

More recently, several locals noted that a red sign with a white “X” on it had been installed on one of The Castle’s first-floor windows, signaling that the structure is unsafe. Additionally, locals grew concerned when, last month, crews began to clear a few of the trees dotting the property, stating that they think it is a sign that the land will be redeveloped in some fashion—and possibly soon. Mr. Gallo noted this week that his company does not yet own the land and, therefore, did not remove the trees.

But on Friday morning, surveyors from Nelson and Pope of Melville were conducting a topography survey of the property. According to one surveyor, John Gregory, who has been with Nelson and Pope since 2007, they were conducting research for Georgica Green Ventures.

Is There A Need?

Southampton Town Housing Authority Executive Director Curtis Highsmith has been adamant in the past regarding the need for workforce housing in the municipality. In earlier interviews, he noted that many of those who grow up on the South Fork simply cannot afford to stay here once they graduate from college.

But the extent of that need is open to interpretation, at least according to those who live near the Speonk property. Those behind a new community group, called Remsenburg Eastport Speonk Communities United—or RESCU for short—are suggesting on their group’s website, www.rescugroup.com, that the people such housing would attract would not be employed by businesses in their community, suggesting that such projects should be sited where they are needed.

Some of those who live on North Phillips Avenue, such as Jim Kaufmann and Erin Black, said they are worried about the increase in traffic and congestion that could result from the apartments. The couple, who moved to the area from Islip in 2011, said they moved east to escape from those issues.

Still, Mr. Kaufmann said he would like to see some sort of improvement on The Castle property, noting that it is an eyesore, without resulting in an increase in population or traffic. “Something is better than nothing,” he offered.

Meanwhile, a woman who lives in a house adjacent to the property, who declined to give her name, said she does not understand the stern opposition to multi-family housing along North Phillips Avenue, which already features a train station and several commercial businesses. She also pointed out that current zoning permits such apartments, though the developer is now seeking a more intense use of the property.

“Everybody has to live somewhere,” said the woman, who is employed as a nurse and has lived in her home for eight years. “It was multi-housing before—what’s the big deal?”

And, as pointed out by Mr. Gallo, one of the possible alternatives for the land could be far less appealing to residents. Current zoning, he said, could allow for the construction of a three-story, 58,000-square-foot office building on the lot.

“Our particular site has a large non-conforming use and the as of right VB [Village Business] zoning allows for a large office building plus single-family homes,” Mr. Gallo wrote in an email. “Therefore, we thought our proposed project would be a larger community benefit (housing for workforce) and less intensive than what is actually allowed as of right. In addition, many indicated the existing site being blighted and would welcome a newly built development.”

An Additional Concern

A second proposed apartment complex for North Phillips Avenue is adding fuel to this particular fire. That project, which would be sited just up the road on 7 acres owned by All Island Purchase Corp in Centereach, is even more preliminary right now, according to officials. Proposed by Southampton-based CAEC Engineering Design and Construction, that project calls for 44 apartments and would also require a change of zone, from R-40 residential to multi-family planned residential development, according to Denise McCauley, a business developer with the development firm. The project would not require a PDD, she said.

According to Ms. McCauley, the development would include some affordable and market value units.

Unlike the land targeted by Georgica Green Ventures, which falls within the Remsenburg-Speonk School District, the lot owned by All Island Purchase Corp is actually in the neighboring Eastport South Manor School District, meaning that children who move into that development would not attend the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School.

The fact that two different developers are pitching similar projects, both of which would be more intense uses than current zoning allows, is the main reason why so many residents of Speonk, and neighboring Remsenburg, are taking issue, according to Mr. Catalanotto.

In fact, those concerns have prompted some to discuss, for the first time, the possibility of creating the Village of Remsenburg. Both proposed apartment complexes, however, fall within the hamlet of Speonk.

“There has been talk from Remsenburg neighbors about how becoming an incorporated Village of Remsenburg may help protect our town from overdevelopment,” said Ms. Sanz, who works as a teacher and is also one of the founding members of RESCU. “The people that are involved are working on a feasibility study and discussing the next steps.”

She noted that, at the present time, it is unclear if portions of Speonk would be included within the proposed village’s boundaries.

Officials with both Georgica Green Ventures and CAEC Engineering, meanwhile, note their firms are still conducting research. According to Mr. Gallo, an ongoing school study should be available for review in the coming days. Once Mr. Gallo and his team reviews the information, they will schedule a public meeting to discuss the findings, he said.

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Here is one area that i can agree with Julie Lofstad. We need more affordable housing in the Town and where better then on the west side where it is better for commuters heading west and won't clog up traffic on county rd 39.
By CleanWaters (80), Southampton on Jan 18, 16 5:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
Uhhh... Southampton's workforce would drive east from Speonk. Unless we are looking to support Brookhaven's workforce housing, it might not be a good idea to not max the western edge of Southampton town out.
Jan 18, 16 7:10 PM appended by Craigcat
Should read: might be a good idea to not max out Southampton town's western edge.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 18, 16 7:10 PM
2 members liked this comment
Where better? How about Montauk where they truly would not have impact on the existing traffic.

Better yet.... implement our $15 a day toll Idea on 27 East bound just before West Hampton between the hours of 7 and 11 on weekdays for non residents ( Now Your Talking Solutions)
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jan 18, 16 8:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
There is no way for that density to safely pull out on North Phillips avenue unless they close the train station. It is a hazard when the train is at the station now. Put 40 or 50 more cars pulling out it will be impossible. Coupled with the development underway North of the tracks, this is a bad location unless Gallo ponies up and buys all the land that fronts Montauk Hwy. In addition, the school district cannot handle it. Is Curtis on Dave's payroll?
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 18, 16 6:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
When you look at the undeveloped land in entire area, it becomes clear that the potential for over-development is real and potentially overwhelming. The 41 N Phillips project has a retail segment that Georgica Green wants to eliminate. So they are arguing for workforce housing, then eliminating potential jobs in the next breath. The only protection our area has against over-development is maintaining current zoning. The emotional argument includes workforce housing, which should be addressed via ...more
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 18, 16 7:05 PM
Goverment hard at work building what citizens don't want. Since it is a goverment funded project section 8 and crime won't be far behind.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 18, 16 9:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Perish the thought that something positive would ever come from Chief1, the most consistent and dour nay-sayer in the history of 27 East!

Where else in the West End of Southampton Town can workforce housing be constructed?

That said, hopefully, if this is built, it will be better managed than the "pocket projects" across North Phillips an a tad South of "the Castle -- how long did that last before it was evacuated and razed?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 19, 16 12:53 AM
Ten minutes west of Speonk is more affordable housing than anywhere on the Island. By the way how's your hero the stooge Brad Bender?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 19, 16 1:26 AM
2 members liked this comment
Also Riverside revitalization project.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 19, 16 7:52 AM
1 member liked this comment
The poverty of your comment is manifest in your Parthian "your hero the stooge Brad Bender."

You've been challenged on this before, and have yet to stand up -- how is Brad Bender my "hero" when I never claimed him as anything other than a neighbor?

And what does Bender have to do with either Speonk or affordable housing?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 19, 16 10:41 AM
Editor - BTW last we spoke with the developer, he was pursuing MF44 zoning rather than PDD. MF44 only requires 3 votes from the board. The housing authority representative told the Remsenburg Association that the project would not be PDD.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 19, 16 7:47 AM
I live in the Eastport/Speonk/Remsenburg area and commute to the East End for work. The need for Middle Income affordable housing in the area is necessity as anything east of the Canal is out of the question. I agree that a high density PDD is not necessarily the strongest answer but there is a need to lower the taxes in the area with a more significant base!

Editor: What ever happened to the proposed 27 Access to Eastport to boost commercial development along that corridor??
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Jan 19, 16 11:12 AM
These projects have been run out of Hampton Bays due to the impact on the schools and a strong CAC opposing them. I doubt Southampton will see another one soon, so to justify their existence the Housing Authority is trying to force these in areas they think the people won't care. Let them build what is "by right".
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 19, 16 12:34 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 19, 16 1:27 PM
the Town has absolutely no business spending OUR TAX DOLLARS on housing for anyone!!!!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 19, 16 1:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
I am not so familiar with that property but speaking in the macro:
1. Certain hamptons need smaller useful properties so lifelong residents can downsize in the community they enjoyed for decades
2. Housing should reflect multiple sizes (note I did not say needs). There should be large home all the way down to studio. Additionally where many towns fail is that the communities lack hotel/B&B space.
3. Having a workforce is necessary. Hilton Head is so expensive they have to charter ...more
By Hambone (514), New York on Jan 19, 16 2:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
There are 700+ acres of undeveloped land in Speonk. Some in Remsenburg district and some in Eastport district. Build out via as of right will be gradual and organic with manageable impact. It can call for workforce housing too. Allowing zoning changes will increase density, have a sudden and severe impact on the school, and add an absurd amount of cars on N Phillips. The 41 N Phillips project is the Pandora's box moment and the housing authority is trying to unlock that box. This is not a singular ...more
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 19, 16 4:49 PM
1 member liked this comment
So by building 91 apartments on North Philips Avenue you will be turning the area into another Mastic and the home values in the area will plumet and taxes will skyrocket to accomodate the mess. We dont need or want this. North Philips Avenue cannot handle another 100 cars at a minimum. This will kill the western end of Southampton township.
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Jan 19, 16 7:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
well stated!
By lightfoot (9), southampton on Nov 6, 16 1:01 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SqueakyWheel (28), Flanders, New York on Jan 19, 16 10:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
In the course of a few weeks we saw North Phillips go from a quiet street to one on which three developers were collectively purposing adding 274 bedrooms. That is not doomsday. It is reality.
The 58,000 sq ft business building is not As of Right. It was one early idea for the property from the previous developer.
Here are the facts:
Current Zoning for #41 North Phillips Avenue:
The plot is divided into two segments.
R-20 Residence (west end of the property). Approximately 3 ...more
By littleones (23), Remsenburg on Jan 20, 16 7:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
To Squeaky
Followers? There's no personal gain for me other than trying to prevent over-development. We have a team of neighbors keeping the community informed. We've had over 100 people contact us in the last 3 weeks asking to stay informed. Our combined database is approx 400 strong. Not followers, but concerned neighbors looking for info.
We probably won't ever agree, and that's fine. I just want you to examine the following, and this is a small sample, of the possible impact zoning changes ...more
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 20, 16 9:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
Build as of right and get the TOWN THE HELL OUT OF THE LANDLORD BUSINESS.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 20, 16 12:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
The Town would not be the landlord, Georgica Green would be.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Jan 20, 16 8:11 AM
Actually it is a joint project between the Town Housing Authority and Georgica Green. The Housing Authority would play a big role in this development.
By littleones (23), Remsenburg on Jan 20, 16 8:29 AM
Georica Green would manage the property, collect the rent, and keep the profits. Town Housing Authority would vet applicants.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Jan 20, 16 4:06 PM
Somebody local may have been able to buy the house on Windward Way that went into foreclosure if it wasn't mortgaged SO heavily. Right Curtis
By 11953guest (48), southampton on Jan 21, 16 6:47 PM
Wow, that mean spirited. what exactly have they done that has caused such vicious responses?
By the way, in case you care about facts... Go back to the website in question. I heard Curtis say in a meeting it was corrected. Find something else to talk about.
By CommunityMinded (20), Southampton on Jan 31, 16 9:27 PM
Gotta love the Hamptons. Basic gist I get from the responses to the article is that the populace would prefer that condemned piece of cr*p versus anything else. Are you all storm battered?
By Hambone (514), New York on Jan 21, 16 7:27 PM
Not even close. A zoning change for Georgica Green sets a precedent for future projects (already proposed at CAC West) where density on small parcels is dramatically increased. ie. 132 bedrooms on 7 acres at 85 N Phillips. The precedent acknowledged by members of our town board. 41 N Phillips could be a 30 unit WF housing building with added benefit of retail frontage, adding jobs. Georgica Green isn't in the retail rental business, so they want that change in zoning. That's the basic gist.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 22, 16 10:35 AM
Who the hell elected Curtis Highsmith to anything? Since when did this fuy gain so much power. The will of the people in Speonk is no ghettos.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 21, 16 10:28 PM
Curtis is clearly on Dave's payroll. Wrong project at wrong place. The infrastructure cannot handle the scope. If Gallo walked into town hall by himself and asked for the development , they would throw him out. We have zoning laws for a reason. We have allowed Southampton Town through the PDD process to circumvent the zoning when they want and enforce them if you do not have the money or political clout to get a project accepted.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 22, 16 8:05 AM
Standing room only with a line out the door at the debate between Julie and Yaz last night. Not surprisingly 50% of the questions had to do with development (read that N Phillips) with Yaz being a little more forceful on that direct issue, citing Riverside Rejuvenation as the right place, with community acceptance. Both candidates seem to be against high density projects in Speonk, and fully understand the dangerous precedent a zoning change will set in the area. The message is getting out and it's ...more
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jan 22, 16 10:21 AM
2 members liked this comment
Bouvier needs to recuse himself from voting on this project since his offspring, (who don't work in Southampton), want to become tenants. Same for anyone else who has a conflict of interest. Does Hightower have a degree in Urban Planning?
By lightfoot (9), southampton on Nov 6, 16 1:59 AM