Code provision could help protect Orient’s scenic vista

Reg Tuthill, speaking on behalf of his family, addressed the town Planning Board at its meeting Monday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Reg Tuthill addressed the town Planning Board on Monday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A never-before-used section of Southold Town code may finally be applied as a tool to address concerns about a local family’s proposal to subdivide land near Orient Village, it was revealed Monday in Town Hall.

The town Planning Board held a public hearing on the Tuthill family’s plan to build a conjoined conservation subdivision using four parcels.

If that subdivision were granted, the Tuthills would be able to create five building lots instead of four on property south of Latham’s farm stand on Main Road. Four lots is the maximum that would be allowed if the family sought a conservation subdivision and open development area on that parcel alone.

But town planning director Heather Lanza said the board has considered another possibility, based on a specific provision of town code, that was suggested by an audience member during the last public hearing on the proposal.

That part of the code would allow the Tuthills to shuffle building lots among the four parcels, potentially creating fewer lots near the scenic farmland. The Town Board would have to sign off on such a swap if the Planning Board approved it.

“The rationale behind it is to give the Planning Board flexibility in subdivision design,” Ms. Lanza told the audience at Monday’s public hearing, though she said the code provision offers no guidance on how it can or should be used.

Ms. Lanza cautioned that the final design of the subdivision may not require the town to invoke that section of code.

“This application is in the beginning of the process,” she said. “There will be much upcoming discussion on plot location.”

Reg Tuthill, a spokesperson for the family, said the properties have been properly surveyed. And, he said, the family plans to speak with the Orient Fire Department to hear views from its members.

The family is also working on a scenic view study, Mr. Tuthill said. The public hearing will remain open for comment until that study is finished.

Many residents who spoke Monday said they were concerned about the size of the potential homes.

Bill Ryall of Orient, a member of the Orient Association speaking on his own behalf, said zoning on the parcel known as South Dyer, near the farm stand, allows for homes of up to 20,000 square feet.

“We noticed in doing the zoning analysis that the two-acre zoning — or actually, any of the zoning — allows for very large houses,” he said.

Mr. Ryall said he didn’t think the Tuthills intend to build up to the zoning maximum, but said the board must account for what others might do in the future.

“We could cite that no one in their right mind would do something like that,” Mr. Ryall said, “but there’s lots of people who are not in their right mind who would do, just because they could do it.”

He added that housing prices may incentivize property buyers to build big.

Resident John Henry called the scenic area near the farm stand a “public treasure” that needs to be preserved.

Another Orient homeowner, Sherry Thomas, who was representing a handful of others from the Browns Hills neighborhood, said they were “united” in seeing a subdivision that would preserve the area near the village, even if it meant adding more lots near Browns Hills.

Planning Board chairman Donald Wilcenski said this round of public hearings was started early in the process and told residents that the proposal would be vetted and many more discussions would be had before any decision was reached.

“We are in the very beginning of our fact-finding,” he said.

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