With lawsuit on hold, Heritage at Cutchogue tries again

Heritage at Cutchogue architect Charles Kuehn (left) goes over the development's proposal with planning board members at Monday's work session meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Heritage at Cutchogue architect Charles Kuehn (left) goes over the development’s proposal with planning board members at Monday’s work session meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

The Heritage at Cutchogue proposal is back.

Developer Jeffrey Rimland presented a revision of the 55-and-over community plan to the Southold Town Planning Board at a Monday work session.

The new proposal comes five months after a agreement was reached between developers and Southold Town to put their five-year legal battle on hold so the project can move forward and go before the Planning Board.

The changes listed in the revised 31-page site plan document filed early this year by The Heritage at Cutchogue includes “some minor variations, but in our view, not anything significant,” said John Wegner, the project’s attorney.

Modifications include moving the community center to the edge of the property, altering the shape of the road leading into the development and increasing the number of septic systems from seven to 36.

The project developers had claimed in the 2009 lawsuit that the Town Board and Planning Board “acted with malice” to hinder the project by trying to change zoning and town codes for that parcel. The lawsuit originally sought $38 million from the town in damages and another $40 million from individual elected officials named in the suit.

The town did not pay the developers as part of the agreement reached in September. Instead, the town promised not to change zoning or allowable uses for the property until the project goes through site plan evaluation. If the Planning Board doesn’t put the site plan up for a public hearing, the developers said, they’ll proceed with the lawsuit.

The developers agreed in the settlement to reduce the project scope from 139 housing units to 130 and promised to designate half of the 46-acre parcel as open space.

The Planning Board is expected to review the revised plan before its next work session. The board did, however, deem that revision incomplete Monday because it lacks a survey of the existing natural conditions of the property as well as information about zoning lines and building elevations.

The developers will have to submit those missing items before the project can move forward, though board members said the natural conditions report could wait until spring, when the property’s native plants won’t be covered in snow.

The re-emergence of The Heritage at Cutchogue has prompted neighbors who opposed the project in the past to speak out against it once again.

Marion Vaccaro, who lives a mile from the proposed development, said she agrees there’s a need for senior housing on the North Fork but is concerned about traffic related to The Heritage at Cutchogue proposal and groundwater safety given the increased number of septic systems.

Ms. Vaccaro — who said she learned about the project’s revival through neighbors and media reports — said she wants the town to do its due diligence despite the lawsuit.

“Just because [the developer] is making a lot of noise about suing the town, or continuing to do it, doesn’t mean he should be given carte blanche to do whatever he wants,” she said.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in a phone call Monday that the town wasn’t bowing down to any developers’ demands.

He said the town made “substantial changes to the code” in response to initial pushback from residents and the original site plan for The Heritage at Cutchogue “embodied our intentions in amending the code.” Mr. Russell said he couldn’t comment on the new proposal because he hadn’t reviewed it yet.
As for Ms. Vaccaro, she said she’s looking forward to a public hearing on the project.
“I’ll be there with all of my neighbors and anybody I can carry,” she said.

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