Cutchogue residents preparing to rally against return of Heritage proposal

The site of what could one day be the Heritage at Cutchogue condominiums. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
The site of what could one day be the Heritage at Cutchogue condominiums. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

News of a stipulation of settlement that could pave the way for construction of a controversial 55-and-over community in Cutchogue has neighbors preparing to protest — again.

From 2007 until the time the developers, Heritage at Cutchogue, filed a pair of lawsuits against the town in state Supreme Court in 2009, the Southold Planning Board received hundreds of complaints about the proposal from residents living near the property. 

“The residents of my neighborhood are being asked to make huge concessions in theirs rights as individual property owners so [the developer] can exercise his ‘right’ to develop The Heritage,” Crown Land Lane resident Barbara McAdam wrote in an August 2007 letter to the town.

Today, Ms. McAdam said those fears remain for the community as the 130-unit housing complex proposal heads back to the Planning Board.

Ms. McAdam had originally helped rally neighbors against the proposed complex, which would be built on property at Griffin Street and School House Lane in Cutchogue. In addition to writing a number of letters, she said she was “live at Town Hall on Monday nights” during public hearings on the issue.

“This is like ‘Ground Hog Day,’ ” Ms. McAdam said last Thursday. “We are concerned about water quality and traffic. As far as I’m concerned those issues are the same. I’ll be attending the hearings and certainly will be calling the neighborhood network, which is quite extensive.”

The push to reunite the community against the project comes days after the Southold Town Board approved a stipulation of settlement. That deal effectively ends the developer’s five-year multimillion-dollar lawsuit, which alleges that Southold’s Town Board and Planning Board unfairly passed code changes to slow down the site plan application process.

The developer claimed the Town Board and Planning Board “acted with malice” toward the project, forcing it to “modify its plans in accordance with ever-changing town law,” according to the 2009 lawsuit.

After five years of ligation, Supervisor Scott Russell said last Thursday, “The reason why we settled is because we wanted to take control of the process. At this point, we didn’t want to cast fate to the wind going before a judge.”

Under the agreement, which Mr. Russell signed last Wednesday, the town is prohibited from changing the zoning and allowable land uses on the parcel until a new site plan can move forward.

The developer has also agreed to reduce the size of the project slightly, dropping it to 130 condominium units from the 139 units originally proposed in 2005. The project may not comprise more than 245,000 square feet of living space — reducing the size of the units originally proposed — and half of the 46-acre parcel must remain open space, according to the stipulation.

“What we did with the stipulation is we reduced the number of units and we limited the size of the units … and the original proposal didn’t provide for open space,” Mr. Russell said. “We did the best we could.”

Under the agreement, Heritage and its parent company, Nocro Ltd., will pay the town $2 million and none of the units in the community will need to meet affordable housing standards, as required by town zoning for that parcel. Instead, the $2 million will be deposited into the town’s affordable housing fund to go toward the construction of low- to moderate-income housing elsewhere in Southold Town, Mr. Russell said.

The developer is also required to provide a revised environmental impact statement, according to the stipulation.

The amended site plan would then be re-examined by the Planning Board before going up for a new public hearing. If the town does not comply, the stipulation states, the lawsuit will move forward.

The project’s developer, Jeffrey Rimland, did not return requests for comment.

“The impacts this project will have on the town are so underestimated,” said Crown Land Lane resident Stephen Tettleback, a biology professor at Long Island University who has protested the complex since it was first proposed. “Everything we have heard from the developer has been, ‘This will not have an impact.’ The claims that were made about the minimal impacts on the environment are ridiculous. There is great dissatisfaction with the whole process.”

Water quality — specifically the amount of sewage the complex would generate and its potential impact on the North Fork’s water bodies — was an ongoing concern among those opposed to the complex.

Suffolk County Water Authority, too, questioned the impact of construction on the water supply.

A December 2006 letter from SCWA to the Planning Board stated: “The water supply is limited and there is a large impact to shallow aquifers … Suffolk County Water Authority strongly urges that the Town of Southold impose conditions on this project.”

A potential increase in the amount of traffic in the area was also a source of contention.

“If the drinking water doesn’t kill us, perhaps the new traffic generated by The Heritage will,” Ms. McAdam wrote to the Planning Board in August 2007.

“The construction phase of The Heritage ranges from 3 to 5 years,” she wrote. “Consider the heavy construction vehicles plodding down our once quiet streets … Not only will this traffic be a nuisance, it will also be hazardous.”

Ms. McAdam’s said safety and traffic dangers would not dissipate because a settlement was reached and the development is expected to be slightly smaller.

“We have more than 50 children in our neighborhood,” she said last week. “We’d like to keep our road with less traffic.”

The developers have one year to file a new site plan, according to the stipulation.

“It looks like we’re going to have to keep going to meetings,” Mr. Tettleback said. “There is going to be a lot of opposition to this.”

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