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Suffolk Planning Commission says Heritage’s site plan is ‘incomplete’

Suffolk County Planning Commission

The Suffolk County Planning Commission has deemed The Heritage at Cutchogue’s site plan application as “incomplete” — a decision that has some local residents and critics rejoicing.

Planning commission members said at a meeting Wednesday in Riverhead that they wanted to hold off on approving the 55-and-over community development plan since the Southold Town Planning Board is currently reviewing the proposal and awaiting an environmental study.

Commission chair David Calone said he believes the commission doesn’t have “the information [they] need from an environmental perspective to make a judgement about its regional impact.”

“Given all of the environmental sensitivities here,” he explained, “certainly this is a potentially troubling application.”

(Scroll down to view the county’s full report on the proposal)

The commission has jurisdiction over the proposed site plan because the property is within 500 feet of an agricultural district and state lands. The 124-unit development has been proposed for a nearly 46-acre wooded lot on Schoolhouse Road off Main Road in Cutchogue.

The plan includes a community center, outdoor swimming pool and tennis court.

In September, the town’s planning department said a draft environmental impact study the developer submitted was “inadequate for public review” and asked for the document to be revised, which has yet to be completed.

The latest version of the proposal came nearly a year after the developer, Jeffrey Rimland, and the town reached an agreement following a 2009 lawsuit filed by Mr. Rimland that claimed the town “acted with malice” to hinder the development by changing the zoning for the site.

The town has since agreed it wouldn’t change the property’s zoning or allowable uses until the proposal goes through the Planning Board’s evaluation. In addition, Mr. Rimland agreed to reduce the number of housing units and designate a portion of the parcel as open space.

Throughout the review process of the application, residents and environmentalists have said they believe the development would harm nearby waters, as well as the area’s quality of life.

[Related: Water quality concerns raised at Heritage development hearing]

Several Cutchogue residents and environmentalist attended the meeting and spoke out against the controversial project.

Prior to the commission’s vote, Kevin McAllister, former longtime Peconic Baykeeper and founder of Sag Harbor-based advocacy group Defend H2O, addressed the commission and stressed the need for the county to more strictly regulate nitrogen discharge from the property.

“It would really be an injustice to this community and our watersheds if this [development proposal] goes in with conventional, same-old, same-old systems,” he said.

The developer’s attorney, John Wagner, also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and said a “cluster system” sewage treatment plan is proposed for the development.

“This is actually being done pursuant to the stipulation of settlement in the underlying lawsuit and will provide a sufficient means of sanitary disposal,” he said, adding the development plan is “fully compliant with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services requirements.”

“We’re also examining,” he continued, “on an ongoing basis alternative means of nitrogen reduction … If it is feasible, then we’ll be willing to incorporate such technology in our ultimate proposal.”

Benja Schwartz, a Cutchogue resident and outspoken critic of the development proposal, described the commission’s decision as a welcoming, “highly unusual” action.

“Normally, they say the matter is for local determination,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview after the meeting. “But they seem very willing to get involved. They took the initiative to make a determination that this was a potential matter of regional significance. It’s a major change in the situation with the pending lawsuit and application.”

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Suffolk County Staff Report