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Planning board raises questions about traffic from pending development in Southold

Some members of the Southold Planning Board expressed concern about the potential impact of cumulative traffic from pending developments along Main Road in Southold at a work session last Monday, while discussing a mixed-use proposal. 

Hard Corner Partners, LLC, has proposed a two-story mixed use building with 30 parking stalls that would front Route 25 on the corner of Wells Avenue, across from the Feather Hill complex. The first floor would offer retail space and the second would include three affordable apartments. Farther down Wells Avenue would be four rental single-family homes for ages 55 and older. The application still needs a state environmental quality review determination, the Planning Board said. 

Planning Board member Jim Rich said during a review of a SEQRA assessment that he has “a lot of concerns about the traffic” there, especially with parents dropping off and picking up children at nearby schools.

The planning department has estimated traffic impact from the apartments would be low. The retail uses are more difficult to assess, “because you really don’t have a benchmark on the retail uses,” assistant planning director Mark Terry said. The Planning Department does not believe vehicles will continue down Wells Avenue when accessing the retail spaces. 

The department is considering a “No Left Turn” egress for commercial vehicles and deliveries exiting the site, as well as no overflow parking on Wells Avenue or Route 25.

Planning Board members Mary Eisenstein and Mr. Rich both emphasized that Planning should take the cumulative impact of traffic on Main Road into consideration, especially since there are several other developments proposed along that street. 

“The perspective that I’m taking into consideration here, is a cumulative one. And I’m using the comprehensive plan language, SEQRA and then also, the New York State amendment to the constitution that says every individual has the right to clean water, clean air and a healthful environment,” Ms. Eisenstein said. “When you look at just the traffic here, you have to consider a cumulative effect on the Main Road in Southold, from Town Hall down to Laurel. The goals of the Southold hamlet are to maintain and enhance our community sense of place.”

The traffic from all developments currently planned in that area would be stressful for community residents, she said. 

“I support what you said 100%, I mean it isn’t just from Southold Town, you’re looking at Enclaves. We just talked about another affordable housing development behind here,” Mr. Rich said. “We are trying to mitigate this stuff, but each individual application is a fairly small part of a huge developing problem.”

A representative for the project said the Wells Avenue proposal is “very minor” compared to what it could be, and its team has “taken great pains to keep it as low impact as we could.”

“That said, I understand every project is going to have an impact but what you’re suggesting, the unintended consequence of what you’re suggesting if you were to follow through, would be an end to development in Southold,” the representative said. 

Mr. Rich said he’s not suggesting anything, and noted he said the same thing about vineyards years ago. “I’m not opposed to vineyards, I’ve never been opposed to vineyards, but if we use the approval of a vineyard as an excuse to preserve land, that to me, without looking at the social costs, that’s not good,” he said.

“If we look at this and say this is an affordable housing thing so we’re automatically going to approve it, that is not good,” he said, again emphasizing he’s not against or in favor of the proposal, or any vineyard. “I’m concerned about the traffic.”

The planning department has noted the project would not have a high impact on traffic, partly because the developers are not maxing out potential buildout on the property and have “really scaled it back.” It was not an analysis made lightly, staff said. 

“What I’m suggesting is that we would be irresponsible as a Planning Board if we are not looking at the overall cumulative effect,” Ms. Eisenstein said. She pointed to the town’s comprehensive plan, which, among other things, aims to improve traffic congestion and pedestrian safety. 

“What do these words mean to us?” she said. “The degree of mitigation has to be taken very seriously within the context of the whole, not as an individual, is what I suggest.” 

Gail Wickham, an attorney representing the project, said on Zoom that she appreciates the concerns about traffic but pointed out that “a large mitigation of this project” is that the parcel would be underdeveloped. The proposed uses also fit the comprehensive plan, she said. 

“I don’t know what further mitigation could be in this area,” she said. “There are a number of parking lots already in this area, in addition to the fairly ample one that’s going to be provided on this project,” plus the project is in a walking area of the hamlet, which would also mitigate traffic. “Everyone is entitled to be concerned about an impact, but again, there are very, very strong benefits to this property, not just in terms of the uses, but the aesthetics, it’s well-designed, it’s underdeveloped. I think it would be a tremendous asset to the center of Southold,” she said. 

The parcel is along Route 25, a state designated scenic byway, and the architecture of the front building is important in maintaining the “hamlet streetscape from a historical perspective,” Mr. Terry said. A staff report also notes potentially requiring the applicant to either provide or allow a future bus shelter for the S92 stop in front of the parcel.

No significant removal or destruction of large quantities of vegetation would occur, Mr. Terry added. There is some concern about eastern box turtles and the northern long-eared bat.

Some potential conditions the Planning Board is considering includes year-round leasing of the four rental units and wildlife sweeps for eastern box turtles or northern long-eared bats during construction.