A community divided over New Suffolk waterfront plans

Plans to move and expand the Galley Ho restaurant were the subject of a public hearing Monday.(Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Plans to move and expand the Galley Ho restaurant were the subject of a public hearing Monday.(Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

One by one they approached the podiums Monday night.

Some neighbors spoke in support of the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s plan for the relocation and renovation of the Galley Ho restaurant. Others spoke passionately against it.

On several occasions during the Southold Town Planning Board hearing on the proposal, New Suffolk was described as a “community divided.” 

“We’re here to analyze this project,” said Planning Board chairman Donald Wilcenski. “Not to polarize the community.”

The project itself was doing that all on its own.

Critics of the proposal — which based on scattered applause throughout the night made up about half the overflowing audience —said the project has driven a wedge in the ordinarily tight-knit community, that it would exacerbate parking problems along First Street, and destroy the unique charm and scenic waterfront the diminutive community is known for. They questioned the transparency of the non-profit’s financial statements, the impact on water quality and the need for the Waterfront Fund to be in the restaurant business at all.

“They do not share with us their operating budget or their business plan,” said Bunny Lane resident Vicky Germaise. “We don’t get to see what comes in and what goes out.”

Julie Saul of King Street suggested the restaurant plans run contradictory to New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s mission to preserve the community’s historic waterfront.

“This is now development,” she said. “In a negative sense.”

Supporters of the proposal — which needs site plan approval from the Planning Board to move forward — said part of the organization’s plan all along was to have the waterfront property serve as a town square, a place where neighbors could congregate. A snack bar-type restaurant has always been in the plans, they maintained.

“The idea was never to have this restaurant as a cash cow,” said former New Suffolk Waterfront Fund board member Tom Wickham of Cutchogue. “This is not big commercial development.”

The site plan, which was filed with the town in April, calls for a 66-seat restaurant and a 47-square foot expansion of the existing Galley Ho building, as well as a 16-slip marina on the portion of the 3.4 acre property that was not sold to Robins Island Holdings for a conservation easement.

The Waterfront Fund has said the “low-intensity commercial activity” is to help fund its mission of preserving the waterfront, supporting recreational, educational, and commercial activities on the site, and assuring public access opportunities. Only 7 percent of the property will be covered, there will be no paving and 38 parking spots will be available on the property, the organization said in its site plan presentation.

“This is a well thought out, thorough plan,” said Pat McIntyre, vice chair of the New Suffolk Front executive committee.

That was an unpopular notion with many in the room.

George Cork Maul, who lives on the corner of First and Jackson streets, said the restaurant expansion — which includes raising the height of the building by two feet — and landscaping plans will damage the scenic vista.

“Many people have given a lot of money to this project in the belief that it would be more preservation and less development,” Maul said. “What we have now is better [than what we had.] But why can’t it be better still?”

Waterfront Fund attorney Janet Geasa said the Planning Board needs to stick to the issue before the board, suggesting that much of the concerns of the community have little to do with anything the board will vote on. She asked the board to close the hearing, but leave open the opportunity for the community to submit written comment.

But the Planning Board, which received more than three dozen letters in advance of the meeting, voted to keep the public hearing open and allow for additional public comment at its July 7 meeting.

On July 12, the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund will host a community meeting and executive committee chair Barbara Schnitzler suggested the organization would be more transparent about the organization’s financials moving forward, though she maintained that she believes the board has extended open lines of communication to the community.

Mr. Wilcenski said it’s important that the community make the best effort to bridge its divide as the planning process moves forward.

“I hope the community comes together,” he told the crowd of more than 1o0. “Something that stands out here tonight is that everyone wants to get along.”

[email protected]