The Southold Town Planning Board has rejected a site plan application for a controversial 28-building spa and wellness center known locally as Oki-Do — a proposal made several years ago for a blighted waterfront property in East Marion.
The board’s unanimous decision to “deny the site plan without prejudice” now requires the property owner, Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer, to submit a new site plan.
During the Planning Board’s work session Monday, town planning director Heather Lanza described the action as “housekeeping” and said an updated site plan is needed since the developer is in the process of having a draft environmental impact study completed that’s based on a nearly 10-year-old scoping session and data.
In addition, Ms. Lanza said Dr. Hillyer’s attorney, Patricia Moore, and her engineering consultant, VHB Engineering, had informed the town in 2013 that they were planning to make “slight changes” to the 2007 proposal.
“I told them we needed to see the updated plan to compare it to new town codes,” Ms. Lanza said. “That never happened. We didn’t see a thing.”
During the work session held prior to the meeting, Ms. Moore said she took exception to the board’s plan to reject her client’s site plan application, especially since she only learned about it after seeing it on the agenda just moments before.
Tensions became heated between Ms. Moore and the board as she attempted to express her concerns about how the decision would affect a State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) study VHB Engineering has been working on.
“The SEQRA document we’ve spent the past two years putting together at a huge expense is a document that is taking the original plan, which, as you’ve said, is not drastically different,” Ms. Moore said, adding Ms. Lanza was made aware her client’s plan.
As Ms. Moore continued, planning board president Donald Wilcenski said she was talking out of turn.
“First of all,” he explained, “this is a work session and this isn’t even on the work session [agenda], so you shouldn’t even be speaking.”
Mr. Wilcenski added that he believes too much time has passed to allow the proposal to move any further through the application process without being updated.
“This project has been so silent for so long,” he said. “We’re asking them to resubmit and start the application over.”
After the meeting, East Marion Community Association vice president Anne Murray applauded the Planning Board’s decision.
“We’re thrilled,” Ms. Murray said, adding that her group was created in 2007 specifically to fight against the proposal. “This is what we’ve been asking for since it started coming back to life.”
The proposed wellness center, officially called the Shizen Hotel Wellness Center and Spa, sits on a nearly 19-acre lot at the east end of Shipyard Lane in East Marion, which previously housed an oyster processing plant but is now in disrepair. The proposal comprises 114 guest rooms, a 195-seat restaurant and bar and a second private restaurant with up to 99 additional seats, 27 spa suites, a pool, three gazebos, a gift shop and a man-made lake, The Suffolk Times reported in September 2014.
The developer is currently seeking wetland and coastal erosion permits from the Southold Town Board of Trustees. That board tabled the discussion during its March 23 meeting and is expected to schedule a second public hearing at a later date.
Photo: Attorney Patricia Moore addressing the Southold Board of Trustees last month. (Credit: Nicole Smith, file)