After more than four years in the pipeline, plans for a luxurious senior condominium community on Route 25 in Southold will be presented to the public for comment on May 9.
The plan for Southwold Manor, a 27-unit project on a 6.75-acre lot across from the Southold 7-Eleven, calls for eight buildings, each containing three apartments with floor areas ranging from 2,700 to 2,958 square feet, and the conversion of an historic farmhouse — once a bed and breakfast — into a three-family affordable home.
The Garden City law firm Amato & Associates, using the name East End Resources, is the developer.
The project has received favorable comments from town review panels, and more than 200 people signed a petition in favor of it several years ago. But it has been mired in litigation since shortly after it was first proposed.
The reason? The developer has alleged that Southold’s environmental review process is flawed and effectively stalled its application. The courts have agreed, according to the developer’s attorney, who says that’s why the town has scheduled the May 9 hearing.
The Southold Town Planning Board first received an application for site plan approval in 2006, but didn’t deem it complete until 2008. In early 2009, the board held a preliminary hearing but did not act further on the application because it said it had to decide whether or not to require an environmental impact statement for the project.
The developer, arguing that a preliminary hearing should not have been required for a site plan application and calling instead for a final hearing, sued the Planning Board because of the delay.
Southold planning director Heather Lanza said last week that the applicants have never given the Planning Board enough information for it to decide whether an EIS should be required. She said that the final hearing set for May 9 was to be held as part of the process of settling Amato & Associates’ lawsuit. She declined to comment further, citing the ongoing litigation.
But Amato & Associates attorney Chris Read had plenty to say about the process.
“The New York State Court of Appeals made a unanimous decision that we were entitled to a public hearing years ago,” Mr. Read said Friday, adding that he believed from the start that the application should have been subject to one hearing only — a final hearing, not a preliminary one.
“The Town of Southold is the only town I’ve heard of that has a preliminary hearing as part of a site plan application. That’s an uncommon method of operation,” he said.
Under the terms of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the environmental review process in most towns it allows for a final public hearing only after an EIS is complete, if one is required. The New York State DEC’s own SEQRA guidelines spell out a process in which a final public hearing is held only after an EIS is prepared, if one is required.
The town last year hired the consulting firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis last year to prepare what state law refers to as a “long-form Environmental Assessment form” for the project. When completed, the form would be used by the board to decide if a full EIS should be required.
Last fall, the consulting firm asked the developer to evaluate the project’s compatibility with neighboring residential property. The site is the easternmost parcel in the Southold Route 25 corridor zoned for Hamlet Business.
The firm also asked for further information on the impact of pesticides on groundwater and the impact of the sanitary flow from the four lavatories and full laundry rooms to be included in each of the units.
The New York State Office of Parks and Recreation has requested more information on the site’s archeological significance. Several residents, in letters to the Planning Board, have urged that an environmental impact statement be completed.
The developer has not provided the information requested, according to Ms. Lanza.
Mr. Read said the project is in accord with the town’s goal of keeping development within hamlet centers.
“It’s a very pretty proposal. The Architectural Review Board, when we first went to them, summed up our entire application as ‘lovely,’ ” he said. “It’s a great idea for senior housing right in the middle of town so seniors can walk to shops and commercial things. It complies 100 percent with what the hamlet studies said would make the town better. In centers of each commercial hamlet, we should put housing units for seniors, so we don’t lose them to Riverhead. It puts density in the heart of town rather than sprawling into farmland.”
Ms. Lanza agreed that the project would likely be in keeping with Southold’s long-term planning goals, but she said there’s little the Planning Board can do without more information on the environmental impact.
The hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 9, at the Planning Board meeting at Southold Town Hall.