“Once you allow this to happen, there’s no going back.” So rang a refrain among locals at a public hearing for the site plan of the Enclaves hotel and restaurant Monday.
More than a dozen residents turned out at the Planning Board hearing in person, with more on Zoom, to comment on the planned construction of the 44-unit hotel and 74-seat restaurant along Main Road in Southold. Criticism from residents focused primarily on what many called a flawed traffic study, concern about the project fitting with the town’s comprehensive plan and whether the town will be able to enforce event size limits.
“The [Planning] Board is aware of the number of hotel proposals that are coming forward and the scrutiny used to review this project will set a precedent for how following projects will be treated. It’s imperative that the Planning Board apply the most stringent level of review to a project of this size and scale,” said Marina DeLuca, an environmental associate with Group for the East End who resides in East Marion.
If approved, the site plan would allow for the construction of a two-story hotel with a full basement, as well as four detached cottages, an accessory event space, outdoor swimming pool and 132 parking spaces. The site plan would also allow the conversion of an existing two-story dwelling — the former Hedges bed and breakfast — into a restaurant on the 6.75-acre parcel in the Hamlet Business zoning district.
Before the hearing started, Planning Board chairperson Donald Wilcenski outlined conditions included with a special exception use permit granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals in December: No outdoor events, events with more than 100 guests or special events as defined in town code are permitted on the property; small events with fewer than 100 guests are allowed; outdoor music is not allowed; the number of approved hotel units may not be expanded and hotel amenities, such as the spa, pool, cabanas and rooftop lounge, are limited to use by overnight guests only. The restaurant is open to public use.
“The Planning Board has reviewed all the information that was written up over the last three years by the ZBA and gone through the process, the questions that were answered on all of their findings,” Mr. Wilcenski said, noting that the Planning Board is beginning the site plan review process.
David Altman, an attorney representing the developer, emphasized ahead of public input that the proposed project has been carefully considered for the site, and is “modest in terms of its size and scope, given the overall size of the property itself.”
The style will remain consistent with the hamlet’s historical character and the property will maintain nearly four acres of green space with deer resistant non-invasive plants, he said. The hotel itself, with the exception of a stone barn, will not be visible from Main Road and lighting will be compliant with the town’s dark skies code. The application was variance free and wastewater will be treated by a new “state of the art” on-site septic system, with potable water available through the Suffolk County Water Authority.
Mr. Altman also noted that existing utilities are already in place and access to the site is planned through two curb cuts, with one for ingress only on the east side of the property and another for egress only on the west. Ultimate jurisdiction over curb cuts is subject to the Department of Transportation, where applications are currently pending, he said.
Mr. Altman emphasized that the ZBA granted a special exemption permit for hotel use after three and a half years of “extensive” scrutiny and SEQRA review. The ZBA issued a 53-page positive recommendation on the project, finding that the application either did not result in significant impact or that the applicant effectively mitigated potential adverse impacts. He said the ZBA found the planned development “preferable to either a no build scenario or as of right development,” and emphasized the mixed character of the area, with neighboring railroad tracks, single family homes and businesses.
Architect and project partner Andrew Giambertone followed Mr. Altman’s presentation, describing the plan to hide the hotel and resulting activity from view. The number of parking stalls was lowered after the 250-person event space was dropped from the plan, and exceeds the required 94 spaces, an engineering consultant at the meeting noted.
In her testimony, Ms. DeLuca expressed concern about the project fitting community character, the potential rise in traffic and the town’s ability to enforce event size. She asked the Planning Board to prohibit any expansion on the site, and to reevaluate the project’s density. She also said the Planning Board should hire an independent consultant to study traffic impact and questioned whether the project fits with the Southold hamlet’s historic rural character.
“Many people have shown up to these meetings during the hearing process with the ZBA and there are many people who are here tonight. We are not coming to these meetings for fun; we have plenty of things to do. We are here because we care about our town,” Ms. DeLuca said. “We are not afraid of change, as the applicant has said in previous testimony. We have spent 10 years helping the town create a comprehensive plan that showcases our community’s vision for the future.”
Projects like the Enclaves don’t reflect the vision showcased in the comprehensive plan, she said. “This project, and I quote from our supervisor, is over the top. If we don’t start taking a stand for our community, pressing applicants to meet the standards of the comprehensive plan, we’re quickly going to lose control of our town. And once it’s gone, we’re never going to get it back. If you think I’m being dramatic, you can take a look at the rest of Long Island.”
Southold resident Nancy Butkus also asked from Zoom how the town plans to enforce event sizes. “Who is going to monitor that there aren’t 150 or 200 people, that guests at the hotel don’t invite their friends and suddenly we’ve got a large number? As far as I know, Southold doesn’t really have any enforcement for these regulations,” she said, adding that she’s not sure why an accessory event space is allowed either.
Mr. Wilcenski responded that the outdoor event space will be “scrutinized” during site plan review. As far as event size, he said enforcement would be complaint-driven and rely on code enforcement.
Margaret Steinbugler, a Southold resident and local civic leader — who emphasized that she was speaking as an individual, not as a community representative — criticized the traffic impact study. An engineer herself, she conducted a “very thorough review” of the analysis and questioned whether the final results might have been understated.
She also said she has concerns about the distribution of traffic. “The traffic impact study depends sensitively on the split of traffic arriving at and departing from east and west. The traffic impact study makes an assumption, without data or analytical support, that the traffic arriving at the hotel will be 60% from the west and 40% from the east. I assert that data on such traffic splits could have been obtained,” she said.
Ms. Steinbugler pointed out that the methodology does not align with advice from the Institute of Transportation Engineers manual. She also said that, in all cases, the traffic study “fails to indicate what [traffic] threshold would be significant, noticeable or undue.”
“Personally — and this is my opinion, this is not fact — I think they do not set a threshold because they don’t know what it is. My estimates of traffic generation rates and the associated growth in traffic on the Main Road suggest that the traffic may grow by as much as five to 7.4%. The traffic impact study I don’t think calculates that number, but the applicant in the final environmental impact statement says that traffic increase will be less than 4%,” she said. “I think the applicant might argue that a five to 7.4% increase is still insignificant. I don’t know what they will say, but I know, to me, a six or 7% change in some variables is quite significant. I’m five foot eight. If I grow 6%, I’ll be six feet and that’s noticeable.”
Ms. Steinbugler asked the Planning Board to require a new traffic study addressing flaws in the 2019 study and, upon completion of the analysis, assess if further mitigation of traffic impact might be required. She distributed copies of her work to board members and the project applicants. Mr. Wilcenski responded that, as locals, traffic is a concern for Planning Board members too.
“The ZBA and the DOT looked at the traffic. We are going to take another look at it. I’m not promising that we’re going to change anything, but I’m just saying we’ll take another look at it and all your questions and references to the traffic safety [manual], we’ll look into all those numbers that you talked about. It will be addressed,” he said.
Anne Murray, an East Marion resident and civic leader, also said she felt the traffic study had been flawed because it had been conducted pre-pandemic, when traffic was much lower. Another Southold resident questioned whether anyone is looking at the cumulative effects of proposed projects in the town.
“We cannot possibly have a hotel and another hotel and another hotel and just sit here and say, ‘we’ll look at each project individually,’ ” she said. “I really think we’re on the verge of getting out of control. We have to sit and look at the whole picture and really sit down and put some boundaries in place.”
Maggie Merrill, another Southold resident and community leader, emphasized the importance of following the comprehensive plan. Ms. Merrill is also a copy editor at The Suffolk Times. She said she was speaking as “a citizen of Southold.”
“Developers will quote parts of the plan, saying that it calls for more places to stay, but they don’t quote the part that talks about quaint inns and bed and breakfasts, and keeping with community character. Community character was one of the two main goals of the plan,” she said. “I ask that as you consider their rights as developers, you also consider the rights of the citizens.
“We only get to do this once. Once it’s done it’s done,” she added.
Mark Terry, assistant planning director with the town, outlined staff comments after the public had their say. Noting that he helped write the comprehensive plan, he said there are a few attributes of the development that meet town goals.
“One key note is the dwelling in front is going to retain its historic character,” he said. There will also be a reduction in nitrogen load on the property and a large amount of landscaping, which are both positives. He questioned, however, the high irrigation rate proposed for the project and whether the applicant has considered workforce housing and 24-hour security on site.
Mr. Giambertone stood up again to respond to individual concerns.
“I think it’s important for the public to understand the scrutiny under which this project went,” he said. The ZBA retained their own consultant and the application was scrutinized by the town every step along the way. The ZBA gave a laundry list of items to address when establishing criteria for the environmental impact statement required.
“It wasn’t as though we took numbers from the air, or we used numbers that were convenient for our use. These were numbers that were presented to us by the town’s own consultant based on their experience and the data that they use for their own traffic analysis. Subject to that, we had to adhere to that criteria and develop our own studies,” he said. The applicant held off on submitting at one point to wait a few months so the traffic study would be completed during the height of the summer season.
“The process has not been one of arbitrary data, it has been scrutinized thoroughly by the town’s own consultants,” Mr. Giambertone said.
The event space, he said, was added after the ZBA required the applicant to hold events indoors. The building is sized to accommodate 100 people and is separate from the hotel.
“The purpose of this boutique hotel is to offer the people that will come here respite to enjoy the beauty of what is so special about Southold. It’s not to create a chaotic scene,” he said. “The purpose of the special events is primarily to offset the downturn in occupancy during the off season. We don’t expect to have many events at all during the high season because that’s our primary time when we’ll be getting the best room rates.”
Prices are expected to average between $135 and $275 a night over the winter, and could surpass $400 per night in the summer. A little more than 18% of the site will be developed, with 56% landscaped, Mr. Giambertone said. Alternate uses would create a “far greater” density on the site.
He emphasized that the project has already been modified to accommodate community concerns and said there will be defibrillators and trained professionals on site, as well as 24-hour security. The restaurant design was reviewed by the state office of historic preservation in Albany and the applicant will consider more drought-tolerant plants that need less irrigation, he said. As far as workforce housing, the developers purchased an adjacent property for staff housing.
“We will go through everything again,” Mr. Wilcenski said. The hearing will remain open for two weeks for written comment.