No matter how many years it takes, no matter how many assorted municipal boards mull the plan over, and no matter how many variations of the plans are ultimately drawn up, one thing seems a certainty: There is going to be 100-plus luxury homes built in East Quogue on nearly 600 acres.
It would be the largest development in the modern history of the hamlet.
There have been nearly three years of spills and chills, charges and counter charges, legal threats, and altercations. The next milestone will occur on Thursday, November 15, at the Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals regular meeting. At that time the board will vote, with no further comment, on the latest reiteration.
In an earlier version, Discovery Land Company sought to create a Planned Development District that would incorporate the golf course and luxury homes into it. The applicant needed a super majority of the town board, but did not get it.
Discovery then turned to the planning board to seek approval for a Planned Residential District for the newly named The Lewis Road Planned Residential Development, which treats the golf course as an amenity for the property owners — it would not be open to the public.
A new wrinkle developed in June. The planning board decided Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa should make the determination after Anthony Trezza of Discovery opined the planning board probably didn’t have jurisdiction. Benincasa, though, had to recuse himself: He had already voiced his opinion at a public hearing. That put the application in the hands of the ZBA.
Carolyn Zenk, a Southampton attorney with a long history in planning and zoning matters and a former town board member, represents private interests. Her client is worried about the groundwater and the negative effects development — especially a golf course — will bring.
She called the current plan “grossly misleading.” Further, she said, “Golf courses don’t belong in the Pine Barrens.” Discovery, and its attorney Wayne Braun, argued that recreational uses like tennis and golf routinely take place in private subdivisions. The developer also pointed out that several golf courses have been built in residential zones in Southampton. Numerous homeowners also have one or more golf holes on their property to practice on. Zenk said it is clear cut: “All unlisted uses are prohibited,” she said, and noted golf courses are not a permitted use anywhere in the town code.
Adam Grossman, the chair of the ZBA, noted that Discovery is already suing the town over the PDD. Both sides in the PRD application have vowed to take legal action should they not approve of the pending ZBA decision. “Let’s just say there is a strong possibility there will be litigation,” Grossman said. Discovery is already suing the town over the PDD denial as well.
But there is more — yet another Discovery proposal lurks, this one to go to the planning board without a golf course option, although in addition to legal action, the company will reportedly pursue other options: to buy a nearby golf course.
Ironically, the best chance to minimize damage to the aquifer and postpose nitrogen loading to the nearby bays has probably come and gone.
During the PDD hearing process, Discovery was going to purchase 33 additional acres of land at the headwaters of Weesuck Creek and preserve it. The owner, Carolyn Parlato, said she plans to develop it, adding more septic flow into the ground. Discovery also offered an aid/incentive package to the East Quogue School District that included a significant upgrade in the septic system.
East Quogue school district officials voiced their support for The Hills to no avail.
Mark Hissey, a representative for Discovery, warned the company wasn’t required to do any of the upgrades it volunteered.
“We’re going to end up with a subdivision that is worse,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said at the time.
Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens, is opposed to any sort of development and would like to see the town purchase the property. So would the newest Southampton Town Board member, Tommy John Schiavoni, whose “no” vote helped sink the PDD application.
But Hissey said his company will never sell the land to the town, and a perusal of its business model indicated the company is a very successful development company, and East Quogue fits nicely into its portfolio.
According to its offering page, Discovery Land Company, founded in 1994 by Michael Meldman, specializes in building luxury residential private club communities and resorts throughout North America. There are more than 20 world-class projects in the portfolio. “Our communities are distinct with their own architectural styles, world-class amenities, and high levels of service. There are Discovery developments in Mexico, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and many other luxury markets. Many of its clients buy one or more homes and travel seasonally.
Discovery is rumored to be preparing for any contingency. The company is reportedly in contract to buy a golf course nearby and already owns the Dune Deck in Westhampton. If Discovery can find a marina to buy, it can offer potential homeowners in East Quogue a boating, dining, and golf experience without building a golf course on its Pressey Road