Guest Spot: Enclaves understates impacts on traffic

Many readers of The Suffolk Times will be aware of the Enclaves, a 44-room hotel and 74-seat restaurant project being proposed in the hamlet of Southold. The location, on Main Road across from the 7-Eleven and near the intersections of Main Road with residential streets such as Hobart, Boisseau, Locust Lane and Town Harbor Lane, has many residents concerned about the traffic that the project will generate. Over 30 locals have written to the Planning Board since March expressing concerns about still more traffic being added to an already busy area.

There’s good reason to believe that the traffic will be even worse than what the project predicts. Estimating future traffic requires assumptions about a lot of variables. Should hotel traffic be based on number of hotel rooms or number of hotel employees? Should restaurant traffic be based on number of seats, or number of employees, or restaurant area? Unsurprisingly, the developer chose variables that predict the least amount of new traffic.

If equally valid variables are chosen, which in some cases are better aligned with professional guidelines, traffic growth may be half again as large to three times as large as the project predicts. And this means that traffic on the Main Road could increase by 7 to 13%, in contrast with the project sponsor’s claim that the increase will be less than 4%. Instead of an additional car every 1.5 minutes, there could be an additional car every minute or 30 seconds. It’s already difficult to make a left turn from Boisseau or Locust or Town Harbor Road onto the Main Road. The Enclaves project as proposed will make it worse.

Contrary to how residents may view the area, for purposes of transportation predictions the Town of Southold is considered suburban. This means that the factors used to predict traffic come from traffic counts performed in “general urban/suburban areas.” Anecdotal evidence suggests residents find the suburban designation surprising and counter-intuitive. When I mentioned it in conversation, one acquaintance said, “My head is exploding … why are we being classified as what we don’t want to be?”. Another wrote in an email, “It’s bothering me that the traffic study identified Southold as ‘suburban’ rather than rural. So we’re being compared to Scarsdale or Great Neck even though we are 100 miles from an urban area. That seems wrong too.”

The Enclaves has already received special exception approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Also the ZBA’s State Environment Quality Review Act findings statement have been accepted. Planning Board approval is the last hurdle left before this project gets underway. The Planning Board is responsible for site plan review and approval for development projects. Per the Southold Town code, part of the purpose of the site plan review is to “lessen and, where possible, prevent traffic congestion on the streets and highways upon which the site fronts or which provide vehicular or pedestrian access thereto.”

Also, Southold Town code gives the Planning Board the authority, through the site plan review process, to prescribe conditions needed to prevent traffic congestion. What can the Planning Board do? They can alter the site plan. They can issue their own findings statement, independent of the ZBA’s. They can withhold site plan approval until all concerns, including traffic, have been addressed. They can consider a reduction in the project’s size and scope.

We cannot change the fact that planning professionals classify Southold Town as suburban. But with effective action from the Planning Board, we can help preserve the character of the hamlets — not suburbs — we love and call home.

Ms. Steinbugler is vice president of the Southold Peconic Civic Association.