Civility holds sway despite contested yacht storage project

Whether the Strong’s Marine Yacht Center expansion project gets the Southold Town Planning Board’s stamp of approval or not, it appears there will be few broken fences to mend in the community. There is, however, a driveway the Strongs share with their neighbors that needs repair.

“He’s getting a quote,” Stephen Boscola said of his neighbor, Jeff Strong. “It’s a busy time of year for him, which he’s expressed, to which I said, ‘I totally understand.’ He’s going to talk to one of his contacts and see what kind of quote he can get.

“He’s very cordial … we’re nice back and forth,” Mr. Boscola continued. “We’re just being neighborly to each other. Because regardless of this project … we’re still neighbors.”

When he is not working in the city or visiting his parents, David and Donna Boscola, whose home overlooks the yacht center, Mr. Boscola is co-chair of Save Mattituck Inlet, an advocacy group formed in 2020 specifically to oppose the marina’s yacht-storage expansion project. 

This shared driveway situation underscores the civility that has endured despite the division in the community in the five years since the Strongs submitted plans to expand their yacht center on the west side of Mattituck Inlet. The proposal calls for two heated indoor storage facilities — 52,000 square feet and 49,000 square feet — to be built at the yacht center on Mill Road in Mattituck. The 32.96-acre parcel is zoned Marine II and R-80, which permit marine and low-density residential development, respectively. The new buildings would house up to 88 yachts of 60 to 80 feet in length.

While many — perhaps even all — major development projects in the area meet with some resistance, few proposals have garnered the same level of attention or stirred as much passionate debate as this one. On one hand, construction will uproot 634 mature trees adjacent to the Mill Road Preserve, which opponents say will potentially impact wildlife, including box turtles and bats, and disrupt outdoor activities, particularly on West Mill Road, which will convey sand trucks to and from the site during construction. On the other, the Strongs have the right to develop the properly zoned property in a bid to grow their business to meet the market demand for winter yacht storage in the region.

Speakers at the many public meetings on the issue have often been split nearly 50/50 on each side of the proposal, and their commentary has ranged from casual to emotionally charged. Contention over the expansion has mostly remained at Town Hall and in letters to editors published in The Suffolk Times.

The window for written public comment closed Monday, and now local officials must prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement that addresses all relevant questions and comments from public hearings or submitted in writing. Once the FEIS is made public, there will be a 10-day comment period for additional input. That will be followed by the Planning Board’s evaluation of the project and findings statement.

At first glance, Save Mattituck Inlet’s very existence might seem to indicate deep divisions within the community. In May, group members parked a massive dump truck outside Town Hall during a public hearing adorned with signs reading “9,000 trucks” and “every seven minutes,” a reference to the vehemently contested plan for the trucks hauling excavated sand and other debris from the site.

But outside of these colorful demonstrations and their public meeting comments, the organization has not been wholly adversarial. Anne Sherwood Pundyk, the group’s other co-chair, said Save Mattituck Inlet has allowed her and her husband, Jeff Pundyk, to tighten bonds with some of their neighbors and build friendships with residents they might never have met otherwise. Their focus, she added, is to make information about the scope of the Strong’s project easily accessible, and they specifically disapprove of any uncordial behavior or malicious intent from members.

“We have absolutely no ill will, we’re interested in building community, we don’t feel we ever have wanted to be divisive,” Ms. Pundyk said. “The outreach that we do is really just giving information about the project, so people can make up their own minds about what they see happening and to invite people to learn as much as possible.”

Mr. Strong himself said he and his family have not faced any incivility from Save Mattituck Inlet members or any of his neighbors in the years since they introduced the proposal. He said he typically encounters residents who either already support the venture or are looking to open a dialogue and understand his motive, which he said is to meet a market demand and ensure the property remains a viable commercial marine facility for future generations.

“We recently had a fair amount of people who were against the project reach out also, and then take the time to come visit with me personally, to learn deeper the facts,” Mr. Strong said. “Not that those people generally turned into raving supporters, but when they take the time to listen to the full details of the facts, they become a lot more understanding of why we’re trying to accomplish [with the expansion].”

Save Mattituck Inlet formed as a network through which Mr. Boscola and Ms. Pundyk could share information about the project with their neighbors who live near the yacht center and the preserve, as well as along West Mill Road, which trucks will use to haul sand from the site. The group’s website provides links to project documents, including the most up-to-date version of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and lists their concerns, which include the removal of the trees and the potential negative impacts to the ecosystem, as well as the construction noise and the traffic from the sand trucks, which Ms. Pundyk said will disrupt daily bike rides up and down West Mill Road and hikes through the 27-acre town-owned Mill Road Preserve.

“You live on the North Fork so that you can enjoy the outdoors, the beautiful landscape and waterways,” said Ms. Pundyk, who has resided in her Mattituck home for 10 years. “We walk down West Mill Road, we go over to Breakwater Beach, we ride our bikes on both sides of the inlet. It’s just part of our lives.”

Mr. Strong said he recognizes the importance of the community’s concerns.

“We do think that people have absolutely valid concerns about the wildlife … and we think we’ve got reasonable remediations. That doesn’t mean there’ll be no impact, but it just ultimately boils down to, do you want a business to be able to expand its business and keep up with the times?”

Mr. Strong also said he remains open to meeting with “anybody, regardless of their viewpoints, no matter how ardent they are against the project. We will meet with anybody in person in a reasonable, respectful way and share viewpoints.”

The Boscolas and the Strongs have been Mattituck residents for decades. Mr. Boscola said he went to school with Mr. Strong’s sons and that his father knew Mr. Strong through his own marine business.

When he was first proposing the project, Mr. Strong met with Mr. Boscola as well as his father and mother to discuss the expansion. The Boscolas expressed concerns, and at a later meeting Mr. Strong offered to buy their house so they could relocate. They did not accept the offer.

“It was just meant to be a good faith gesture. It wasn’t meant to be anything other than that,” Mr. Strong said. “If you could imagine yourself, if you owned it, and you weren’t going to be comfortable living there because of this project expansion … [it was] a good faith effort to say, ‘Let’s get three appraisals and we’ll pay the average of the three appraisals’ and hopefully everybody’s happy with that.”

Good faith still exists between the Strongs and the Boscolas. After all, neither side wants their driveway — or their community — to deteriorate.

“If I saw Jeff Strong in town tomorrow, I would say, ‘Hey, Jeff,’ when I walk by him, I’d stop and chat if he said, ‘Hey, how are you?’ I wouldn’t … yell at him or scoff at him,” Mr. Boscola said. “We’re human beings, he’s a business guy, he’s got a project that he wants to put forward, and we’re a homeowner in the direct crosshairs of it.”