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Planning Board listens to concerns on Tuthill Conservation Subdivision

“This whole project has all the civic groups thinking about house size in Southold.”

That’s what Venetia Hands, longtime Orient resident and Orient Association member, said about the Tuthill Conservation Subdivision, a plan under review by the town Planning Board that, if approved, would allow 17 residential lots on a tract of land at 21505 Route 25 in Orient.

Dozens of community members attended a public hearing regarding part of the proposal, which would preserve 94 of the property’s 112 total acres.

Last month, The Suffolk Times reported that the Planning Board granted DEIS adequacy, a mandatory environmental review report, for the plan. The adequacy approval moved the plan forward. 

Prior to opening the meeting to public comment, chairman Don Wilcenski said the board has received “several e-mails and letters of concern” about the project.

He invited Lyle Tuthill up to the microphone to provide background on the plan. 

Lyle’s father, John Tuthill, inherited the John H. Brown property from his family. Lyle said his father wanted to do everything in his power to keep his family lineage in Orient. 

“At his death, we ended up with a lot of property that we were wondering what we could do in order to meet what John [Tuthill] wanted to do,” he said, “and that was to keep the land as open as we can, but also allow children to have an opportunity to come to Orient and stay there.”

He said through continued discussion with family, the conservation subdivision, which builds upon land and preserves part of it, was the best approach to respect his father’s wishes.

Edward Webb Sr., chairman of the Southold Town Preservation Commission, said the commission has not been contacted by the applicant or town staff to obtain its input.

“This is important, because the proposed … parcel includes plots within the boundaries of the Orient Historic District,” he said. “In fact, the DEIS incorrectly states that the subdivision properties are adjacent to the historic district. Any construction upon these plots are required to come before the commission for approval.”

Mr. Webb said the DEIS does not take into account how the historic district would be impacted. It also makes no mention of nearby town landmarks, he said. 

Joel Kline, a registered archaeologist from Mattituck who works at Southold Indian Museum, said he does not advocate for or against the project, but agrees with Mr. Webb that the DEIS does not consider historic areas to a full extent.

“My concerns are with the adequacy of the information in the DEIS relating to historic and archaeological properties,” he said, “and with what I believe to be irregularities in how the SEQRA process for this project has been handled.” 

Mr. Kline said a 2011 report showed three historic preservation areas and six historic structures adjacent to the parcels. But, when a field investigation was completed in January 2015, it made no mention of previously recorded sites. 

Jesse Gordon, speaking on behalf of homeowners in Browns Hills, which borders the parcel, said if a road was placed on the western portion of the property near the street, land conservation issues wouldn’t have arisen. 

Suzanne Horton, who said her family has been in the area since 1640, said she’s very familiar with Lyle’s father and the Tuthill family. 

“Lyle did an excellent job in summing up what his intent for the property was,” she said. “They’re trying to preserve such an iconic view as you enter into Orient, and nobody wants that disturbed.”

However, she thinks it would be beneficial if the board clarified if there’s any guarantee that the preserved land can be built upon in the future. 

Ms. Hands, speaking on behalf of the Orient Association, asked the Planning Board to clarify the exact sizes of the homes that will be built on the property.

“We’re told that the goal is to bring Tuthill family members back and have them build houses, and we’re told that when they do do it, the intention will be to build in a size appropriate to Orient. Where are the regulations, rules or restrictions to make sure that happens?”

The board unanimously decided to leave public comment on the issue open for the next two weeks. Assistant town planning director Mark Terry said all comments made at the hearing will be considered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. 

In April 2016, a similar DEIS determination of adequacy request was submitted to the board but was labeled inadequate due to environmental concerns of contaminated groundwater. The plan has since been revised and the groundwater has been tested, The Suffolk Times reported. 

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