On a busy corner in Mattituck, near the dangerous turn into Love Lane, sits a vacant piece of land. In May 2018, Brinkmann Hardware Corp. submitted a site plan application to the Southold Town Planning Board to build a 12,000-square-foot hardware store and an 8,000-square-foot paint store on the parcel. From the beginning, their proposal was controversial because of its location, size and potential impact on the community.
In February 2019, the Brinkmann application was halted by the imposition of a moratorium on construction in the area around the site. The Brinkmanns assert that the moratorium specifically targets them. Supervisor Scott Russell insists it’s simply due to other planning issues. The Brinkmanns have now sued Southold Town, contending, among other things, that “the moratorium appears to be designed specifically to prevent [them] from developing the property.” The courts will decide who prevails. And taxpayers will foot the bill as our local government scrambles to resolve another preventable problem. It didn’t have to be this way.
In 2005, 14 years ago, the Town of Southold Hamlet Study highlighted the risk of “large scale commercial activity [that] would be inconsistent and inappropriate” within the Hamlet Center in Mattituck. It also flagged the exact parcel of land proposed for the hardware and paint stores as a desirable site for a “village green type park […that] would provide a recreational focal point for the Hamlet Center.”
While other studies through the years have echoed the risk of inappropriate development in this area — and around Southold Town more generally — this administration failed to take action to address this issue until the Brinkmanns came to town with their proposal. And this is just one of the many issues that desperately needs urgent attention and action; the people of Southold Town can’t afford to wait.
To its credit, the Russell administration did begin to develop a Comprehensive Plan in 2009 to guide future growth and development in our community, and to synthesize the recommendations of earlier studies and initiatives into a seamless, forward-looking plan. But here we are in 2019, 10 years later, and it’s just now nearing completion. Judging by the long delay, it’s apparent that this administration did not see systematic planning — and the actions that should have been guided by it — as important enough to allocate the resources, attention and energy to get the Comprehensive Plan developed, completed and implemented in a timely manner. They must be held accountable for their failure to course-correct when their original timeline of 18 months ballooned to 10 years. A plan for the future shouldn’t take a decade to create.
While waiting for the delayed Comprehensive Plan, we have witnessed sluggish, disjointed and reactionary decision-making by our local government. Without an overall plan, our community has faced continuous and growing challenges affecting farming, housing, traffic, water quality, the economy, the environment and other areas that do not have thoughtful, up-to-date policy and code to address them in a coordinated way. The Brinkmann case is just one example.
The best — and maybe the only — way to preserve who and what we are is to recognize the challenges we face, plan for the future and then act accordingly. Change is constant, and we need to address that change to become what we want to be. Protecting the character of our community involves far more than merely preventing things we don’t want. We must promote the things we do want.
It’s impossible to build a stronger community if we focus only on the latest crisis, or the latest threat. Vision, leadership and planning are necessary. The Russell administration has now been in office for 14 years. They’ve had their chance. It’s time to turn the page.
The author Greg Doroski is the Democratic Party candidate for Southold Town supervisor.