Featured Story

Water quality concerns raised at Heritage development hearing

Kevin McAllister

Residents and environmentalists say they want an advanced wastewater system included in a proposed 55-and-over community development.

It was standing room only at Town Hall during the Planning Board’s preliminary public hearing Monday night to discuss The Heritage at Cutchogue as the majority of speakers expressed water quality and traffic concerns at the nearly two-hour meeting.

Developer Jeffrey Rimland’s attorney, John Wagner, addressed the Planning Board and described the proposed wastewater system as “conventional,” adding it meets Suffolk County standards.

Kevin McAllister, former longtime Peconic Baykeeper and founder of advocacy group Defend H2O based in Sag Harbor, said he “bristled” during Mr. Wagner’s comments and believes the developer has “a golden opportunity” to be a good neighbor.

Mr. McAllister described Suffolk County’s current standards as outdated and said since the county doesn’t require new development proposals to include advanced wastewater systems, he believes the town has the authority to do so on its own.

“I don’t reside in your community, but I do care about your waters,” he said. “Please find a way to move this project into advanced wastewater treatment, thereby at least alleviating the principal concern of this community, which is water quality degradation.”

William Lee, whose family owns Sang Lee Farm, an organic farm located near the proposed plan, added he’s concerned about fertilizer usage to maintain lawns and landscaping at the development.

Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz criticized the plan’s lack of environmental sustainability features, such as solar panels and green roofs, and said he believes all the plastic-lined ponds proposed in the plan should be replaced with rain gardens.

“These plans are 30 years old and they haven’t updated them,” he said. “The development doesn’t relate to the environment … It’s horrible.”

[Featured Letter: Come out and speak up at Monday’s public hearing]

After Mr. Schwartz’s remarks, Planning Board president Donald Wilcenski said all ponds in the proposal have been removed. He also said each comment made Monday night will be addressed during the review process.

Standing room only Monday night for The Heritage at Cutchogue's hearing. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
Standing room only Monday night for The Heritage at Cutchogue’s hearing. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

While most residents said they opposed the plan, a few seniors said the development is needed.

John Minerva said he’s lived in Cutchogue for 52 years and believes the proposal is sorely needed.

“I can’t keep my home anymore and I would be very happy to move into something like this,” he said.

The 124-unit development is proposed for a nearly 46-acre wooded lot on Schoolhouse Road located off Main Road in Cutchogue. The plan includes a community center, outdoor swimming pool and tennis court.

The latest revisions come nearly a year after the developer and the town reached an agreement following a 2009 lawsuit that Mr. Rimland filed in state Supreme Court against the town. In his lawsuit, Mr. Rimland claimed the town “acted with malice” to hinder the development by trying to change the land’s zoning. He had sought $38 million from the town in damages and another $40 million from individual elected officials named in the suit.

Supervisor Scott Russell has said that before code requirements for the property were changed, the owner could have built up to 164 units on the site without having to provide any open space. The town’s action in changing the code was a response to residents’ opposition to the original 2005 project proposal, which called for 139 housing units, he said.

After Monday’s public hearing, town principal planner Mark Terry confirmed the next step in the process is for an environmental study of the proposal to be completed.

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Top photo: Kevin McAllister, founder of advocacy group Defend H2O, addressing the Planning Board on Monday.