“Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” That’s how my neighbor, Bridget, a housepainter, began her letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals, asking them to reject the special exception permit requested by the Enclaves, a 40-room hotel, large-event space and restaurant being proposed across from 7-Eleven in Southold. She told me she wanted to start with an “attention grabber” and she couldn’t be more correct in saying that attention must be paid.
Southold is dealing with a big-money developer with lawyers and consultants to ensure he gets what he wants. So it’s no surprise that they have found that “no significant adverse traffic impacts on or off-site will occur” and that, miraculously, “large events in peak season will not impact the adjacent or surrounding properties.” Yes, that surely is piss — or, more aptly, total b.s. And thanks to the 64 Southolders who filed letters with the ZBA, the community is calling out the developer, Jonathan Tibbett, who has demonstrated a blatant disregard for the health, safety and well-being of Southolders. As James and Donna on Horton’s Lane wrote: “The needs of the many must prevail over the greed of the few.”
The 64 letters to the Zoning Board represent a cross-section of the community, from teachers to landscapers to retirees, yet they are uniform in their vigorous opposition to the project. Many of us slogged through the 110-page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), having filed comments on their draft statement two years ago. This new document was supposed to respond to the issues we raised. Yet during those two years, they added a spa (for guests only), a 250-person indoor event space and a waist-high glass barrier to contain the sound from their 50-person rooftop event space (“open weekends til 10 p.m.”). Our concerns about noise and traffic spilling onto Main Road went largely ignored.
Instead, a “new 4-way intersection” will be created by their driveway that will deposit all that new traffic (from garbage trucks to shuttle vans) directly opposite 7-Eleven. Oh, wait: They propose hiring a “traffic control person to guide safe movements to and from the site.” As Sue and Tom on Founders Path state in their letter, “… a frankly absurd solution. Is the controller going to be there all hours of the day and night?” George and Lynn of Oriole Drive point out in their letter: “Overcrowding this road changes the scenario for first responders (the firehouse is just a short distance down the road).” Between the 40-room hotel, the 250-person large events AND the unlimited 100-person “small events” Main Road traffic would make Harbes fall traffic look like a walk in the park.
Lucille, a retired Southold Elementary School teacher who has lived on Town Harbor Lane for 25 years, writes: “The developer is NOT invested in our community. If he was, he would scale down this project and move it to an area that can accommodate the traffic, the noise, the partygoers, the parking spaces and maybe even house the 64 new workers it expects to employ. What a complete nightmare.” Southold has more low-wage hospitality job openings than it has people to fill these positions. Our town’s economic vitality is reliant upon affordable housing for everyone who keeps the North Fork running, not luxury accommodations for the wealthy.
Perhaps the most poignant letter comes from Lauren, a small-business owner who lives in the old farmhouse directly east of the project: “This town and our Founders neighborhood mean something to me. I chose to put down roots here for a reason. I purchased my home knowing there might be a small business next to me at some point, but never would I have imagined a proposal for a huge hotel, grossly out of proportion to its surroundings. The proposed plans are a direct assault on myself and my neighbors.” Lauren, having spent four years working for the U.S. Geological Survey as a groundwater expert, also questions the calculations put forth in the FEIS: “How, after adding a 250-person event space, did the water calculations and sanitary flow not change significantly? Are the 250 guests not eating or flushing the toilet?” She asks the same of the new spa — what kind of spa does not use excessive amounts of water?
Southold has seen extraordinary growth in the last year. Our town government needs to get moving to actively protect and strengthen our community. As Nancy, whose home is on Hobart, writes: “I’ve been concerned about all the changes happening in Southold. Outsiders are coming in and buying up all the businesses … and have little to no concern for the residents, the environment and our peaceful way of life.” The issues the proposal brings up — increased traffic, the lack of workers because of the absence of affordable housing, the outdated codes concerning events — are not new. Changes are better handled not in time of crisis but before it hits.
The ZBA Enclaves meeting is Thursday, Oct. 14, at 5 p.m. in Town Hall. If you did not have the chance to write a letter, please join us to voice your concerns. The people of Southold are what make the town great. Join us in fighting to protect our small-scale charm, the safety of our roads and the community we love.
Ms. Butkus lives in Southold and is retired from magazine publishing.