Southold residents vehemently condemned the proposed Enclaves Hotel and Restaurant at a public hearing last Thursday, criticizing a project that some say could fundamentally change the character of Southold Town.
“To me, this project is an example of the Hamptons creep that is now everywhere in our town, from the outsized homes going up in every hamlet to the roads clogged from the trade parade. Is this really what we want Southold Town to become?” said Anne Murray, an East Marion resident and civic leader.
The proposed 74-seat restaurant and 44-room hotel on Main Road in Southold has been a point of contention for years — and was similarly criticized at a public hearing in 2019, with residents citing concerns about the project’s size and traffic, noise and environmental impacts. The Enclaves, which would be built on a 6.75-acre parcel at the former Hedges bed and breakfast, would include an indoor event space that could accommodate up to 250 people, a basement-level spa for overnight hotel guests and an outdoor swimming pool.
Attendees at the hearing last Thursday primarily listed concerns about community character, traffic, beach congestion, event frequency and the environment. Nearly every seat was taken at one point during the nearly four-hour hearing. People squeezed along the wall at the back of the room, with the crowd spilling out into the lobby. Another 88 people watched via Zoom.
“This project is just too big. It’s going to increase issues that we already have and open the door to drastic and permanent changes to the surrounding community and will likely induce more out-of-scale development in the future of this town,” said Marina DeLuca, an environmentalist living in East Marion.
She and other residents argued that the proposal conflicts with the town’s comprehensive plan, “fails to reflect a harmony with the surrounding community” and sets a precedent for town approval of similar projects.
Ms. DeLuca, who grew up in Southold Town, said many of her peers have left the area due to a lack of professional opportunities and a high cost of living.
“I actually worked in a hotel for six years before having this job. We were short staffed and the staffing issues rose exponentially over the past two years,” she said. “Why would we create more jobs when we do not have the manpower to fill them, or would likely require people to commute from outside of Southold Town, further increasing the traffic issue that will inevitably be presented within this project?”
Katie Peters, a local business owner and Southold resident, similarly pointed out chronic staffing shortages and the high cost of living in the area.
“If this project goes through, I can tell you my husband and I would consider selling our home and leaving our businesses,” she said.
“I would ask this board to separate the speculation and fiction from the facts.”David Altman
Cutchogue resident and local business owner Paul Romanelli was one of few at the hearing who spoke in favor of the hotel, arguing that the North Fork has successfully attracted thousands of consumers each weekend and needs more hotel space. He further argued that other similarly major projects by the same investors have proved beneficial to Southold Town.
“I know for a fact that North Fork Table and Inn, that building has been restored, was structurally unsafe before they purchased it, and is now thriving and a beautiful location,” he said. “Rothman’s department store, as much as we all love, was a fire hazard and a problem and the beautiful Einstein Square that we now have, thanks to these investors, is quite impressive. So there’s a track record here of improvement to our downtown that I think is critical in our analysis of this.”
Jonathan Tibbett, the hotel applicant and owner of North Fork Table and Inn, signed a letter in support of the hotel with several other local land and business owners — including Christopher Pia and Charles Salice, who have current development projects before the town, and Stacey Soloviev, who according to an article published in The Real Deal this week has plans to build a 40-room resort at her winery in Cutchogue. Others to sign onto the letter include owners of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and Braun Seafood Co., as well as the publishers of Dan’s Papers, which covered the hearing.
The letter, which featured the heading “Best of the North Fork” above the signatures and the quote “Unify the North Fork Community,” argues that the hotel will benefit the local economy, support local farms and improve local safety by offering visitors to wineries and breweries a place to stay for the night.
“Hotels have been an integral part of our community character for well over a century,” the letter says. “The disappearance of these grand hotels has since given way to more and more suburban sprawl. We would argue suburban sprawl and its substantial noise and traffic has changed the North Fork more than anything else.”
David Altman, an attorney representing the applicant, emphasized that the project is variance-free and the application before the Zoning Board of Appeals is for a special use permit.
“That’s rather important, because it shows careful consideration by the applicant, I believe, in terms of the thoughtfulness and development of this project, particularly in conjunction with comments from this board and, again, comments from the public,” he said, adding that the Final Environmental Impact Statement addresses over 300 community comments.
The impact statement notes that the 250-person indoor event space was added to ease community concerns about noise from outdoor events. Vegetation and fencing were also added along property lines for “visual and noise mitigation purposes,” a consultant said.
Consultants said the project would not significantly increase traffic, even though residents pointed out that the traffic study included in the FEIS was conducted in 2018 and doesn’t account for the influx of people on the North Fork following the outbreak of the pandemic.
Representatives for the project also said there’s no intention to offer a shuttle bus to Founders Landing, something many residents expressed concern about.
“We have not given serious consideration to how Founders Landing may or may not fit into the business … We were under the impression that as taxpayers in the community, the people who came to the hotel had the right to use it, but it is not our intention to make it a feature of the hotel,” said Andrew Giambertone, an architect and partner on the project. “We’ve developed an extensive outdoor entertainment area and the people who come to stay at the hotel will primarily be staying there.”
Leslie Weisman, chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said the board assumed when they required events to move indoors that they’d be located in the basement.
“Instead, what came back was a proposed addition for a catering facility — or event space, we’ll call it — and an amplified kitchen, and a full spa in the basement, which was an indoor swimming pool, with massage available and so on,” she said, adding that the applicants requested to make it open to the community during the off-season to generate more income. “We determined that would be running yet another business on this property.”
Mr. Altman thanked the ZBA at the meeting’s close and said that it’s “not uncommon to see a visceral reaction from members of the community.
“That’s what we’ve experienced tonight, and I understand that,” he said. “But that being said, I would ask this board to separate the speculation and fiction from the facts.”
The ZBA will accept written comments on the Enclaves project until Nov. 4.
Town attorney Bill Duffy emphasized at the beginning of the hearing that the ZBA is bound by town code. “This is not a popularity contest,” he said.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who doesn’t normally comment on pending applications, called the Enclaves application “over the top” in an interview after the hearing.
“I don’t have issues with hotels, things like that, but so many uses in such a small area would have a detrimental impact and undo any effort to suggest that people are making an effort to maintain the character,” he said. “If someone has to assure the public that they’re going to put plantings in to hide the hotel, that should raise real questions about their style of architecture and its consistency with the historic corridor.”