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Residents fear Heritage development will impair the environment

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01/11/2016 9:49 PM |

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The developer of a proposed 55-and-over community in Cutchogue and residents are still at odds in finding a middle ground — if one even exists — to bring the project to fruition.

While the developer has reduced the number of housing units and pledged to use advanced wastewater treatment systems, many residents still don’t support the controversial Heritage at Cutchogue.

The Southold Town Planning Board held a public hearing Monday to discuss the proposal’s draft environmental impact study, known as DEIS, which was published on the town’s website last month.

About 50 residents attended the meeting and more than a dozen residents said they oppose the plan because they believe the rural area’s environment and roads can’t sustain such a high-density proposal.

“If it doesn’t fit, please tell them to quit,” Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz told the Planning Board. “This proposal made no sense 30 years ago — it makes no sense now.”

The development was first proposed in the early 1980s for a nearly 46-acre property on Schoolhouse Road off Main Road in Cutchogue. The latest version of the plan came nearly a year after the developer, Jeffrey Rimland, and the town reached an agreement following a 2009 lawsuit filed by Mr. Rimland that claimed the town “acted with malice” to hinder the development by changing the zoning for the site.

The town has since agreed it wouldn’t change the property’s zoning or allowable uses until the proposal goes through the Planning Board’s evaluation. Currently, 124 housing units are proposed, as well as a clubhouse, outdoor swimming pool and tennis court.

The legal agreement, known as a stipulation of settlement, isn’t sitting well with residents, including Bob DeLuca, an East Marion resident and president of Group for the East End.

“I’ve been at this for 30 years and I don’t remember many projects where there was a stipulation of settlement overlayed on top of a SEQRA process — it’s weird,” he said. “I don’t know why they did it. The town had itsreasons. I hope theynever doit again because what that does is it turns this discussion into something that feels a little bit like a charade, which isthe stipulation that says how many units. It says the type of septic we’re going to have and essentially designs the project before you get to the public hearing.

“There still is something happening here to help you and lend support to you in trying to reopen that dialogue,” he continued. “You want to drive on Sound Avenue and go to those condo complexes with a guarded gate at the front of it? When did that look like the heritage of Cutchogue, right? It’s not.”

In addition to the town’s review of the proposed development, the Suffolk County Planning Commission has jurisdiction over the proposed site plan because the property is within 500 feet of an agricultural district and state lands. The commission hasn’t made any determinations and is currently reviewing the proposal.

Throughout the town’s review process of the application, residents and environmentalists have said they believe the development would harm nearby waters and the area’s quality of life.

Many of those concerns were renewed at Monday’s public hearing.

Steve Tettelbach, a Cutchogue resident and biology teacher at Long Island University, said he reviewed the DEIS and believes the development will hurt local wildlife habitats.

In particular, he asked the Planning Board to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study the wooded property since the DEIS found Northern long-eared bats in the area. The federal government has deemed the species as “threatened.”

“The first planned step of the Heritage is to level and completely remove all vegetation on the 46 acres,” he said. “I urge the Planning Board to put a freeze on the further removal of any trees by the developer.”

North Fork Environmental Council president Bill Toedter said he’s also concerned about the development’s impact to the environment and took exception when he saw a nature trail was added to the proposal.

“Tell me, where’s the nature once it’s been bulldozed?” he asked.

As for the amount of housing density, Mr. Toedter said he believes drinking and surface waters will be negatively impacted if advanced wastewater treatment systems aren’t installed.

In addition, he said, the project estimates residents’ daily water use at 22,500 gallons per day and twice that amount to irrigate the property.

“This is not the type of water level use we can sustain on Long Island,” he said.

Orient resident and Peconic Green Growth founder Glynis Berry stressed that the Planning Board should only allow irrigation on the property if it’s with recycled water.

John Wagner, the developer’s attorney, gave a presentation about the project and said his client is sensitive to the community’s concerns.

For example, while the project is allowed to build up to 130 units, only 124 units are proposed, he said. As for wastewater treatment, Mr. Wagner said the county doesn’t require that the project include a sewage treatment plant.

However, Mr. Wagner said, the developer is considering using advanced wastewater treatment systems if and when the county adopts their usage.

“We’re in constant dialogue with the Department of Health with regard to possible alternative technologies that may come online with the health department in the foreseeable future,” he said. “Those systems are not yet approvedby SuffolkCounty… We have constantly indicated our willingness as the applicant to consider these systems as they come online.”

Kevin McAllister, the former longtime Peconic Baykeeper and founder of the Sag Harbor-based advocacy group Defend H20, said he believes the town should require that the project include alternative systems since the county has been slow to enact wastewater regulations.

“Please find the means of saying ‘no’ to this project until they come forward because, right now, all they are basically submitting to you is smoke and mirrors with respect to the health department,” he said. “That should be unacceptable to this community.”

The Planning Board decided to keep the public hearing open for written comment and plans to reopen the hearing at its Feb. 8 meeting.

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Photo: The Southold Town Planning Board held a public hearing Monday to discuss The Heritage at Cutchogue’s development plan. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

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