Standing at the podium before the Southold Town Board, Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association president Mary Eisenstein said dozens from her organization had responded to a poll about a controversial proposed mixed-use development on Main Road in Mattituck.
Nine Mattituck residents said they supported the project, Ms. Eisenstein said; however, 102 people said they were against it.
“Guided by our members, we are requesting the Town Board deny permanently this request,” she told the board to applause from the audience seated in Town Hall.
At a public hearing Tuesday evening, the Southold Town Board heard from more than a dozen residents, most of whom opposed a request by developer Paul Pawlowski to change the zoning of the property.
The proposal calls for the development of 3.8 acres of land into 14,000 sq. feet of commercial space and would create 12 second-floor apartments at affordable prices, Mr. Pawlowski said.
He has asked the Town Board to change the zone of that property from residential to commercial, which would allow his development to move forward.
The residents were having none of it. A vast majority of those present cited water quality and traffic concerns and said changing the zone for the development would further harm quality of life in the hamlet. Seven more people wrote in letters to the town board; all were against the project.
Some said they’d prefer to see a 7- or 8-unit housing complex on the site rather than Mr. Pawlowski’s mixed-use plan.
Even after Mr. Pawlowski — a Mattituck resident himself — promised to keep rents low, install state-of-the-art septic systems and vowed to do right by his neighbors, many were not convinced.
“It sounds reasonable and that’s what bothers me,” said Rich Monaghan of Mattituck. “It’s too reasonable. He’s willing to do anything to get this through … I believe that this proposal is an assault upon Mattituck.”
Bill Toedter from the North Fork Environmental Council heaped praise on Mr. Pawlowski for making himself available for questions from residents. But he said the town should not be swayed.
“While Mr. Pawlowski pitches the benefits [of the project], the town must be honest about the costs,” Mr. Toedter said. “This ‘business-as-usual’ can no longer be accepted by the town. If we don’t start addressing [these concerns] now, the cost of addressing them in the future will be 10 times greater.”
The environmentalist said Mr. Pawlowski claims to have preservation as his first priority, but noted he is a businessman.
“At the core of his interest is maximizing his return,” Mr. Toedter said.
It’s a claim Mr. Pawlowski fended off multiple times during the nearly 2-hour-long hearing, at times speaking directly to the audience and displaying maps of what development would look like.
“Preservation is the core of my proposal,” he said. The developer argued that other developers wouldn’t set aside land for preservation, as he has proposed for about 80 percent of the property.
“This property, it is important to all of us,” Mr. Pawlowski said. “It would stay woods. No other alternative offers that … I’m not asking for a zone change without offering something.”
Mr. Pawlowski promised again and again that the rent for the 12 proposed apartments would stay at affordable levels.
“The only reason I bought this property, the only reason, was to do workforce housing,” he said.
Yet many neighbors said the development would tarnish the spirit of the hamlet, which is already more commercially built up than other town centers along the North Fork.
Dave Deridder, who lives on Main Road, said he moved to Mattituck from Sayville and Nassau County to avoid the suburban sprawl.
“I’m not against change but we would like to preserve the quality of life, the quality of our environment,” he said.
Leah Sullivan said the roads would become more dangerous with the development nearby.
“I don’t want to see it get worse,” she said. “This is just creating a perfect storm and we’re going to realize these consequences too late.”
“The people of Mattituck do not want this,” added Marty Dunn, another Mattituck resident, “and I hope you hear us.”
But not all residents were against Mr. Pawlowski’s development. One neighbor said the development was “consistent” with the two commercial uses on either side of the property.
Fred Andrews, a former member of the town’s housing advisory board, added that workforce housing was desperately needed in town, and took issue with the tone of some critics who claimed Mattituck was shouldering too much of the town’s housing burden.
“Affordable housing isn’t a punishment,” he said, noting The Cottages hadn’t “damaged Mattituck.”
Other residents said the timing of the public hearing made it difficult for some residents to attend: the hearing began at 4:30 p.m. on a weeknight just before Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day.
Whether that would bring more supporters or opponents of the project depended on who you asked. Mr. Pawlowski said there were “hundreds” who could speak in favor of the development, while critics said working families and couples who opposed the project were unable to come.
Members of the Town Board ultimately agreed. Instead of closing the hearing, the Town Board adjourned the discussion, which will now conclude in two weeks at the Town Board meeting on Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Photo Caption: Mary Eisenstein speaks before the Southold Town Board Tuesday evening. (Credit: Paul Squire)