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Jul 15, 2009 12:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Some are pushing for a new environmental review committee in Southamton

Jul 15, 2009 12:56 PM

A movement that seeks to include more public input in the process by which the Southampton Town Planning Board reviews project applications, and decides which ones require extensive reviews, is building momentum among civic groups and community advisory boards across the South Fork.

Creating an Environmental Review Committee is one way to push public voices to the forefront when applicants propose projects to the town’s zoning and planning boards, according to Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca. Mr. DeLuca, who was the guest speaker during last week’s Citizens Advisory Committee-West meeting, has been pitching his idea to Southampton Town Board members, civic groups and advisory boards over the past few weeks. He attended the most recent CAC-West meeting, which was held last Thursday, July 9, at the Westhampton Community Center on Mill Road.

If created, an Environmental Review Committee would provide the town’s zoning and planning boards with an outside opinion on whether applications before the board should require an extensive environmental analysis, as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). After reviewing an application, the Planning Board either issues a positive declaration, which requires that the applicant complete an extensive environmental review, or a negative declaration, which is the equivalent to signing off on an application.

Currently, the Planning Board typically makes such a determination before a public hearing on the application is even held, a system that prevents concerned citizens from participating in the planning process, Mr. DeLuca said. “Transmitting concerns to the people who make decisions has been problematic,” he said.

Mr. DeLuca added that his proposed committee would also streamline the site plan application process for developers and possibly cut down on the length of time required for projects to secure approvals. Because developers would have a report on public opinion, they would be able to appropriately tweak their projects, Mr. DeLuca said. Often, developers do not know the community’s concerns until much further down the road, when it is much more costly to change a project, he explained.

Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who is running for town supervisor in November, has been drafting proposed code changes that she said would ensure that the town’s zoning and planning boards hold public hearing before making decisions about SEQRA determinations.

For that reason, Ms. Throne-Holst said she does not necessarily support the idea of creating another review committee. “Our goals are the same because we both want early input,” said Ms. Throne-Holst, adding that she hopes to accomplish what Mr. DeLuca wants by simply updating the town code.

If it is ever created, the Environmental Review Committee would hold meetings once a month in order to ascertain how the public feels on a particular project. Members would then submit a report on their findings, which would include their opinion on whether or not an applicant should conduct an extensive environmental review, to the zoning and planning boards.

Mr. DeLuca is hopeful that the situation is resolved by September, before election season begins. In order to make the Environmental Review Committee a reality, Mr. DeLuca would most likely need a resolution passed by the Southampton Town Board supporting it. He expects to meet with the board during a work session this summer.

Prior to last week’s meeting, Mr. DeLuca introduced his idea for an Environmental Review Committee over the past few weeks to the Southampton/Tuckahoe/Shinnecock, Water Mill and Sag Harbor citizens advisory committees. He plans on making his pitch to members of the Hampton Bays Civic Association this Monday, July 20.

Mr. DeLuca explained that his idea has evolved over the past few years, most notably after some residents opposed the Planning Board’s handling of two projects: the Oakland Farms subdivision in Quiogue and the Woodfield Gables subdivision in Speonk.

Oakland Farms is a 33-lot subdivision that will be built just south of Francis S. Gabreski Airport. Westhampton Beach residents have said the subdivision will wreak havoc on traffic in the area.

When reviewing the Woodfield Gables application, the Planning Board, at first, did not require an environmental impact statement. It was not until after they learned about a large plume of contaminated groundwater under the property that Planning Board members rescinded their negative declaration and, instead, required an in-depth environmental study.

The proposed Environmental Review Committee would include seven members, each of whom would be appointed by the Town Board, and one non-voting chairman, such as Martin Shea, Southampton’s chief environmental analyst, Mr. DeLuca said. Mr. Shea was not available for comment this week.

Those in attendance last week said they had some issues with Mr. DeLuca’s proposal. Some members said they were concerned that an Environmental Review Committee would be adding another layer of review to a town that already has too many layers of government.

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Whatever the outcome, Bob DeLuca is to be complimented for coming forward with a detailed outline to improve the planning process. Thanks to the CAC for allowing Mr. DeLuca to make his presentation.

Whether we wind up with a DeLuca or Throne-Holst solution, none of this would be necessary if the plannnig board acted like a real planning board.
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Jul 15, 09 11:11 AM
2 members liked this comment
The planning process is already quite a lengthy and torturous path of tears. And apparently comments from the professional town planning staff and reports from other town boards are not being received and given due consideration by the Planning Board itself. Providing community input early and holding SEQRA determination until the end of the process will help to avoid the threats of law suits by property owners who perceive the long delays as deliberate attempts to thwart their plans.

By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Jul 15, 09 12:05 PM
2 members liked this comment
I will probablynever have enough money to have a project before the PLanning Board, but imho the process is painful enough as it is. I'm not exactly sure what it is Group for the East End actually does, but they single handedly derailed the Bulova project in Sag Harbor.. I don't think they even have an employee that lives in Sag Harbor. Job well done, Bulova is really looking great these days! Everyone has their opinion.. well except the Planning Board that has 5(?) opinions. But if they don't ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Jul 15, 09 8:11 PM
In my town, the developers have completely ruined the neighborhood with rental housing giving it a slum-like appearance. They have torn down wooded areas adjacent to the core of the pine barrens destroying the habitat of rare migratory birds. Instead of the beautiful natural area for which I purchased my home, I now have to look at ugly rental housing. These greedy developers now have their eyes set on the core, itself, and one has even succeeded in building yet another house there. So much ...more
By darwin (47), southampton on Jul 16, 09 11:30 AM
This is not the 50's or 60's or 70's or even the 80's. Anyone who has tried to advance even the smallest itty bitty project knows what its like to get an extensive proctology exam from the ZBA and Planning Board and Health Department and DEC. They do their jobs very very well in what they see as the public interest. There is already more than full and fair opportunity for public comment on every stick erected and every shovel of dirt moved. What we have here are disgruntled people who ...more
By freedom (3), Southampton on Jul 16, 09 12:02 PM
darwin, why didn't you just buy the land? Just because it was virgin when you moved in, doesn't mean it was going to stay that way. I assume your house was built and did not magically appear from the ground.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jul 16, 09 12:25 PM
As usual most of us do not perceive the real threat to our homesteads as they are whittled away bit by bit by the developers. And some (see above) don't really understand the critical importance of the SEQRA process and where it justly belongs in the time frame. The threat of a personal lawsuit IS NOT and NEVER CAN BE a reason to approve a potentially hazardous project as we've seen happen in several recent submissions. Even when the local community is in support of a positive project with good ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jul 16, 09 2:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Just like most people I thought the core of the pine barrens was safe. It isn't. Wish I could buy more land but I'm just a poor working stiff - not rich, but paying my bills. Isn't the CPF supposed to buy land for open space and preservation? And shouldn't developers post public hearing signs where they can actually be seen and not hidden in the middle of the woods where no one can see them in time? And shouldn't town officials care about all of the town not just South of the Highway? And ...more
By darwin (47), southampton on Jul 16, 09 4:42 PM
I totally agree that we need more environmental safeguards in this town. When will people finally realize that our environment is priority number one and the most valuable asset that we have?
By deKooning (106), southampton on Jul 16, 09 9:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
The Southampton Board of Supervisors has ALWAYS been the creature of the town building contractors. A majority of the board and, frequently, ALL of the board has profited immensely from new home development. I remember years ago when a nascent Southampton Party ran a candidate for supervisor whom many believed to be a shoe-in. She lost by a substantial margin. The building contractors had conducted a quiet word of mouth campaign to convince voters that her election would threaten their prosperity. ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 17, 09 11:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
Though I have only lived in town 30 years, I have never heard of the "Board of Supervisors" or anyone with the title "President of the Board of Supervisors" could you please enlighten us as to what that is? Mr Lang, by the way cleaned cesspools, if that is what you mean by "in the building trades". Did your home magically grow from with thin the ground, or did some horrible developer build it?
Why don't you educate yourself as to the process before writing such crap?
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jul 21, 09 4:09 PM
Amen. I guess some people were fortunate to buy a home without ever renting. Welcome to socialism.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 22, 09 8:15 AM
How many times have we heard complaints that the planning process is broken - the developments we don't want keep being approved while those we do want are delayed and denied? This is the time to tell the Town Board and those running for office that we want real change NOW, not after the entire Town has been overbuilt. Let's see how many Board members and candidates will speak out for real reform of the planning process.
By Yes we can (16), Eastport on Jul 22, 09 12:10 PM
Who is the "we" you are talking about? A developer will not build something unless there is a NEED. A developer has fundamental property rights. Not all in the town want socialism. When your taxes go up, and you have to go to Riverhead or Brookhaven for a quart of milk, you're attitude will change. Developers create jobs, period. Our whole east end economy is based upon real estate and real estate development. When that stops, look what happens. A town with no money and more and more young ...more
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 22, 09 1:14 PM

Development solely for development sake is a mistake. The east end economy also relies on tourism, fishing and farming. Whoever said let’s go spend time in Nassau County because it’s so beautiful. What’s being proposed are alternatives to improve the existing planning process. The wrong kind of development will raise taxes, rather than lowering them. East End taxes are lower than either Brookhaven or Nassau County, why because there is less development and more open space. Careful planning ...more
By Yes we can (16), Eastport on Jul 23, 09 4:41 PM
Again, welcome to socialism. As for taxes..do you think the population difference has anything to do with it? As to your points...Tourism,- real estate based. People need places to stay, eat and play. The local inn keepers need local business and development to support their services. They alone cannot support the local economy. So let's make it more difficult for restaurants and local entrepeneurs to go into business. Fishing- have you read about the increased regulations in that department? ...more
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 24, 09 7:47 AM