Compromise still out of reach on Galley Ho renovation plans

(Credit: Paul Squire)
Waterfront Fund executive committee chair Barbara Schnitzler shows a mock-up of the view from the waterfront near the Galley Ho restaurant after the proposed renovations at a public hearing on the project Monday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Last month, the ordinarily tight-knit community in New Suffolk was divided over plans by the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund to relocate and renovate the Galley Ho restaurant. As a contentious public hearing ended, Southold Town Planning Board chairman Donald Wilcenski advised New Suffolk to “come together.” 

On Monday night, dozens of critics and supporters of the plan returned to the Southold Town Planning Board’s meeting for the continuation of a public hearing on the controversial proposal.

They were no closer to a compromise.

Throughout the nearly two-hour long hearing on the plan, the two sides traded talking points and applauded as their supporters spoke before the board.

While Mr. Wilcenski and members of the audience urged the community to reach a consensus, supporters of the project — which needs site plan approval from the Planning Board to continue — still pushed for the plan’s adoption, unchanged, while some of those opposed said they no longer trusted the nonprofit group.

During his time at the podium, New Suffolk homeowner Tom McClasky read from the minutes of a January zoning board meeting discussing the plans for the Galley Ho to operate as an eatery where locals could eat at picnic tables.

“That all sounds well and good, but [during] the more recent conversations during the meetings held by the New Suffolk Waterfront [Fund] … the community is hearing different plans,” Mr. McClasky said, adding that he feared the restaurant would be used for special events like weddings.

He argued that the Zoning Board of Appeals should re-evaluate the special exemption they gave to the Waterfront Fund to ensure such events wouldn’t be allowed.

At one point, while neighbor George Cork Maul voiced his opposition to the Galley Ho plans, a man in the audience sighed loudly in disgust and walked out of the hearing, mumbling that the complaint was “baloney.”

The Waterfront Fund’s site plan was filed with Southold Town in April, and calls for a 66-seat restaurant as part of a 47-square foot expansion of the existing Galley Ho building.

The proposal also includes a 16-slip marina on part of the property. The Waterfront Fund is scheduled to meet with residents on Saturday to discuss the  group’s finances and plans for the property.

Those in favor of the proposal — many of them current or former board members of the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund — said the Galley Ho was a historic building that deserved to be restored.

“We know the Galley Ho building and use are consistent with community character since the building has been on the site used as a restaurant since 1962,” said Waterfront Fund executive committee chair Barbara Schnitzler. “We hope to bring back that vibrancy.”

One supporter, Tom Gleason of New Suffolk, addressed concerns about flooding due to the Galley Ho’s raised foundation and new location. He told the board his flood models showed the Galley Ho wouldn’t flood nearby homes, comparing the impact to “a grain of sand in a swimming pool.”

Yet critics of the plan included other residents and nearby business owners, who railed against what they called a lack of transparency from the nonprofit group. Others warned that increased traffic from the restaurant would shatter the quiet lifestyle residents had grown accustomed to.

“I don’t want this kind of nuisance,” said New Suffolk resident Barbara Solo. “We’ve always been a quiet community … I love this peace of mind in this town. I do not want to see it developed in any way, shape or form.”

Ms. Solo advised the Waterfront Fund to “swallow its ego” and tone down the proposal.

“Then maybe we can all agree on something,” Ms. Solo said. “But as of now, we’re divided and I’m really, really angry that they think they can pull this [off].”

In a letter filed to the Planning Board, the Board of Directors for the Waterfront Fund reiterated that the project was “modest in scope” and deserved approval.

The board listed 13 reasons why the project’s site plan should be adopted, ranging from creating public beach access to “maintaining the panoramic Peconic Bay view our property has always enjoyed,” while leaving 92 percent of the property undeveloped, according to a copy of the letter.

Pat McIntyre, vice chair of the Waterfront Fund executive committee, repeated again Monday night that the plan was “modest.”

At the meeting, Waterfront Fund board member Andrew Torgone admitted that the nonprofit group should have been clearer with the community about its plans, but said the volunteers had no intention of using the restaurant as a money maker.

“We are not building a large scale commercial enterprise,” he said, adding that the Waterfront Fund had the necessary funding to complete the project now.

As the meeting wound down, former Waterfront Fund board member Stephan Roussan said he felt the outcry was not due to the proposal itself, but to the “top-down, unilateral” decisions by the Waterfront Fund leading up to the site plan.

“There’s a lot more that we agree on than what we don’t agree on,” Mr. Roussan said.

He said if the Waterfront Fund would consider amending the site plan to address some of the resident’s concerns about extreme uses of the property or coming up with other options for the property, the two sides could reach common ground.

“These types of conversations that we’re having tonight representing these different viewpoints? Have them out amongst ourselves,” he said. “[Let’s] figure it out. Lock us in a room.”

Mr. Wilcenski closed the public hearing, advising the audience that the hearing was the “beginning of a long process” in approving the site plan. The Planning Board left the public hearing open for written comments for two weeks.

“Hopefully, after your meeting on the 12th, you’ll be sending us some good, positive information,” he said.

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