Many still oppose Heritage, despite promise of better waste treatment

John Wagner

While a few residents are praising a commitment to include advanced wastewater treatment systems in the controversial Heritage at Cutchogue proposal, many people say they’re still opposed to the 55-and-over community housing plan and fear it will ruin their quality of life.

John Wagner, the developer’s attorney, told the Planning Board during a public hearing to discuss the proposal’s draft environmental impact study that his client has had meetings with the Suffolk County Health Department and has agreed to “definitely” install the systems, which the county is currently testing. The idea behind installing them would be to maintain the health of the Peconic Bay, as nitrogen included in waste — particularly, in outdated cesspools — has been identified as a primary source of pollution in local waters.

There is no requirement that the developer utilize newer technologies.

But despite the improvement new wastewater treatment systems could have on the project’s environmental impact, locals still fear how the Heritage would affect their day-to-day lives.

Throughout the town’s review process of the application residents and environmentalists have said they believe the project would harm the environment and the area’s quality of life.

Many residents echoed those concerns Monday, pointing to possible traffic issues and the gated-community design, which they said would change the North Fork’s rural character.

“Schoolhouse Road will essentially turn into a driveway for the Heritage project,” said Kelly Evers, a mother who lives on that street with her four young children. “The building part will be a nightmare for us. The five years it will take to build — our lives will be on hold. It will be terrible.”

New Suffolk Civic Association vice president Joseph Polashock said although he’s pleased to hear advanced wastewater treatment systems will be included in the project, he said his group still has water quality concerns, including how the development’s paved surfaces will contribute to additional runoff into nearby waters.

Cutchogue resident Nancy Sawastynowicz also expressed environmental concerns and described the project’s density as “too high for the North Fork.”

“It’s outrageous if this high-density development is allowed to pollute our North Fork,” she said. She called for a stipulation that would require the developer to pay any remediation costs if the project were to pollute surrounding waters.

Despite the concerns, an agreement by the project’s developer — Jeffrey Rimland — to include newer technologies to handle wastewater was seen as a win by Suffolk County LegislatorAl Krupski, a former Town Councilman and  Trustee, who called the news “encouraging.”

“I have a 10-year history with this project as a town official and then county official,” he said. “It’s very encouraging to have the applicant and the health department working together and willing to do a pilot here.”

The county is currently testing six systems, he said, adding the advanced wastewater treatment systems can only be installed through the pilot program since the county has yet to approve them for general use. A spokesperson with the county executive said last week that the systems should be approved by the end of the year. Either way, the system Heritage installs would be OK’d by Suffolk.

“The health department has indicated that even if the regulations aren’t drafted in time, they will support our application before the health department board of review to use these systems until those regulations move forward,” he said.

Mr. Wagner estimated the 124-unit housing plan would use about 22,500 gallons of wastewater per day, which he said meets county standards, and initial data shows new wastewater treatment systems will result in “substantial nitrogen reduction.”

Kevin McAllister of Defend H20 described the county piloting six systems as “good progress,” but suggested the Planning Board set its own nitrogen-loading standards for the development since the county has been slow to adopt changes.

Specifically, he said Southold Town should require that the amount of wastewater discharged from the development shouldn’t exceed 3 milligrams per liter on a monthly average, which is the same standard Brookhaven Town now requires for new development within the Carmans River watershed.

“We’ve really got to start implementing sustainable development,” he told the Planning Board. “You have the obligation to really get this right.”

Development of the nearly 46-acre property on Schoolhouse Road off Main Road in Cutchogue was first proposed in the early 1980s. The latest version of the plan came nearly a year after Mr. 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 while the proposal goes through Planning Board evaluation. Currently, 124 housing units are proposed, as well as a clubhouse, outdoor swimming pool and tennis court.

While most residents spoke in opposition to the project, a couple of people said they believe it’s needed.

One Cutchogue resident said she would be able to downsize from her home and enjoy retirement in the gated community. Another said he welcomed the development.

“I don’t mind having new neighbors,” said Tom Foster, a Cutchogue resident and owner of County Marine Contracting. “I don’t have any opposition to the project and think it’s great what they’re doing with the new septics.”

The Planning Board agreed to leave the hearing open until its next meeting on March 7 for written comment.

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Photo: John Wagner, the attorney representing the Heritage at Cutchogue’s developer, addressed the Southold Town Planning Board on Monday and said advanced wastewater treatment systems will be included in the project. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)