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Mar 11, 2009 2:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town raises concerns over pair of applications

Mar 11, 2009 2:36 PM

Separate applications filed by Riverhead Town and Suffolk County, both of which are requesting that the state reclassify large swaths of land abutting Peconic River, have been met with disapproval by Southampton Town and environmental experts who insist that the long-term effects of the proposals remain unclear.

In a joint letter dated February 27 and addressed to Robert Marsh, the regional manager for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Habitat, both the Southampton Town Trustees and Town Board stated that there is insufficient research to warrant the relaxing of building standards on undeveloped land that overlooks the waterway.

The Town Board and Town Trustees, the latter of whom are the stewards of the southern half of the Peconic River bed, also argued in the letter that it is still unclear how Suffolk County and Riverhead Town plan to develop the land in question. The letter also requests an explanation of how the DEC plans to monitor future development along the corridor.

According to the DEC, Suffolk County and Riverhead Town want to reclassify nearly 190 acres of waterfront property along the Peconic River, which divides Riverhead and Southampton towns and falls under the New York State Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers system, from “recreational” to “community.”

The proposed change, if approved by the DEC, would relax building regulations along the Peconic River corridor and allow for commercial and industrial development—two uses that are not permitted under the current classification.

“To address these issues, there is a need for the DEC to provide some clarification with respect to how future commercial and industrial uses within the proposed ‘community’ use designation area would be regulated,” the letter states, “with respect to what environmental performance standards or criteria would be applied to ensure that the Peconic River system and its watershed corridor are adequately protected.”

The joint letter also asks the DEC to prolong making a final decision on the dual applications and requests “that the applicants or DEC staff develop a river management plan.”

Southampton Town Trustee President Jon Semlear said that, as of Monday, he had not yet received a response from the DEC.

Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC, said Tuesday that the state agency recently received a petition to reopen the comment period, which expired on February 27, from the Group for the East End. On Wednesday, Mr. Fonda said that the state has denied the request to reopen the comment period. The original comment period expired on January 31, but Southampton Town officials secured an extension after complaining that they were never properly notified about the applications.

The Group for the East End and other local environmental organizations have criticized the proposed change, explaining that it is nothing more than a “downgrading” of the river’s classification.

“We’ve received between 20 and 30 comments ranging from the environmental groups and citizens,” Mr. Fonda said.

Mr. Fonda explained that now that the comment period has not been extended, the next step is to compile the comments and present them to DEC officials in Albany who will ultimately make the decision regarding the river’s classification. The DEC has four classifications for rivers—wild, scenic, recreational and community—with the latter being the least restrictive in terms of permitting new construction.

The change would target a total of 134 acres of mostly privately owned land in Riverhead Town and 49.6 acres at the Suffolk County government complex located in Riverside, which is in Southampton Town. The county’s plans for the Riverside property are still unclear—a complaint that is raised in the letter.

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We have to many birds already, downtowm Riverhead could use the economic boost that commercial development could create.
By jxmcgoey (2), southampton on Mar 11, 09 5:47 AM
" The Group for the East End and other local environmental organizations have criticized the proposed change, explaining that it is nothing more than a “downgrading” of the river’s classification."

I agree with the above statement.It would be detrimental to wildlife and there are some THICK hard clam beds in that part of the Peconic River.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Mar 11, 09 11:42 AM
There are alot of other areas that can be developed that won't have waste products emptying into the Peconic estuary. What kind of commercial development are we talking about? Remember the aquarium is right downstream. Sounds like another dumb development idea.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Mar 12, 09 8:27 PM