Residents concerned with scenic vista call for preservation

Town planning director Heather Lanza (right) and Planning Board members during Monday's meeting. (Credit: Michael White)
Town planning director Heather Lanza (right) and Planning Board members during Monday’s meeting. (Credit: Michael White)

Most of the speakers who took to the podium Monday night said they appreciated the Tuthill family for its storied stewardship of land in Orient.

The speakers also recognized the family, whose history in the hamlet dates to the 17th century, for its work in putting together a “thoughtful” and “sensitive” development plan for four parcels totaling 112 acres, 94 of which would be preserved.

But there was one big concern: preserving the scenic vista surrounding and behind Latham’s Farm Stand on Main Road.

Five residential lots are being proposed for a property to the south of the landmark farm stand.

“I’ll say what many have said, but they don’t want to say in public: This piece should not be built on,” Orient resident Bill Ryall said of the Tuthill-owned parcel, known as South Dyer. “There are other pieces of property of the four parcels that would be actually much better to handle development, even with smaller houses and more compact development.

“More like what [the community] Brown’s Hills is right now, actually.”

The Tuthill Family Holding Company seeks to build a conjoined conservation subdivision using four parcels. Through this, the Tuthills would be able to create one more building lot on the property south of the farm stand than would be allowed if they sought a conservation subdivision and open development area on that parcel alone.

No representative for the Tuthill family spoke at Monday’s Planning Board hearing and Reg Tuthill declined to comment to a reporter after a Planning Board work session meeting last month. The land in question is not protected and can be developed.

Mr. Ryall and others, however, insisted it shouldn’t be, and that the Tuthill family be compensated for any restrictions that would limit or disallow building on the property.

“Whatever the town considers doing or whatever restrictions might be imposed, the Tuthills shouldn’t bear any of the costs of that,” Mr. Ryall said.

Orient resident John Henry echoed those sentiments.

“I believe this is the crown jewel of Orient,” he said of the favorite vista. “It’s the signature property and these days properties that combine farmland and salt water are really few and far between. This property is a treasure visually and for our food supply. This is a property so precious that, if at all possible, it should be preserved intact and, if so, the Tuthills should be made whole and fully compensated for any change in their proposal.”

Planning Board officials didn’t comment on the preservation pitches, which would likely have to involve Southold Town using its own Community Preservation Fund or recruiting the help of others to purchase the land or its development rights.

At last month’s work session, Tuthill family members said there are no immediate plans to build on the four family-owned parcels. Two of those properties are what’s called the North and South Dyer parcels located just east of Latham’s, and the other two are the North and South Brown parcels about two miles farther east on Route 25.

In a summary of the project submitted to the town, the Tuthills state:

“In total, this involves about 112 acres of which 23 acres are coastal and wetland areas with high scenic value. An additional 70 acres would be preserved of which 52 acres would continue to be farmed (98 percent of current farmed area). The remaining 17 acres would be split up among 17 lots plus the right-of-ways needed to support them, and one existing farm stand.”

Of the South Dyer parcel, which contains 35.3 acres, the proposal is for six lots ranging in size from 0.5 to 0.9 acres and 28.5 acres of open space “inclusive of 15 acres of unbuildable lands,” according to the Planning Board agenda description.

The five homes, whenever built, would run along the eastern part of the property, along the homes that are currently on the west side of Oysterponds Lane.

Another concern for residents — nine in total spoke during Monday’s hearing at Town Hall — is the allowable size of those homes under zoning.

“The family has been great stewards of this land for many, many years,” said John Dispenza, also of Orient. “I’m concerned about the law of unintended consequences to the view. Coming across Orient right now, when you look out across the farm field and you look out east, you see tiny little houses. What’s being built today are large McMansions everywhere, and in the event the proposal goes through, we will have a wall of McMansions; we will look like Southampton and Sagaponack.

“If this is approved, at the least maybe the town or the family can have some type of covenant [restricting] the size of these homes and the design of the homes.”

He said such large houses would change the character of the hamlet “forever.”

In an interview after the meeting, the town’s planning director, Heather Lanza, said a landowner could build up to 20 percent of lot size under the zoning. Any covenants restricting building size would have to be entered into voluntarily by the property owners, she said, adding that such an agreement would be “unusual,” however possible.

Robert Hanlon, president of the Orient Association civic group, asked that the board keep the hearing open until “essential” information requested of the Tuthills, including conceptual drawings of what houses might look like on the South Dyer parcel, are completed.

“Studies being done relating to the proposal are not yet complete and not yet available for public review,” Mr. Hanlon said. “This includes the viewshed simulation study that the board has wisely required. These reports may address many of the issues that are most important to the community and may alleviate concerns or highlight critical issues that need to be addressed.”

Concerns over septic systems and related water quality issues in Orient were also raised during the public hearing.

The board elected to keep the hearing open until “at least” Dec. 15.

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