Residents urge broader development moratorium in Southold

Various residents, leaders of civic associations and even Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi attended a Southold Town Board special meeting Tuesday morning and urged the board to consider temporarily halting new commercial development throughout the town.

The board hosted the meeting to continue its now month-long discussion on enacting a hotel development moratorium in Southold. In its first work session on the matter, board members briefly considered a broader moratorium on commercial development, but the focus has since narrowed to exclusively pausing hotel development. Tuesday morning, among other concerns related to the issue, they discussed whether the moratorium should last six, nine or 12 months and whether existing hotels could still seek approval for renovations and repairs during the moratorium.

Following the work session and votes on a handful of unrelated legislative items, members heard from their constituents in the audience, the overwhelming majority of whom demanded the board take even stronger action to curtail all forms of development throughout the town.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to handle a lot more building, whether it’s commercial or residential,” said Anne Murray, the land use coordinator for the North Fork Environmental Council. “We have a number of issues besides hotels … We need a full moratorium.”

The comments Ms. Murray and various other speakers made Tuesday morning mirrored many of those the NFEC, a Mattituck-based environmental advocacy nonprofit, shared in a letter to the Town Board dated March 14. The letter said it is “vital” that the Town Board enact a “12-month, carefully considered moratorium on all commercial development and subdivisions, excluding single-family homes that do not need further approval, including trustee permits.

“With a moratorium in place, the town board, planners and the public will have time they need to fully focus on the zoning effort,” the letter continued. “It will give us some breathing room to carefully evaluate what we want this place to look like 10 years from now. Without a moratorium, we face pages of plans from more developers who care little for our fragile environment or our fishing and farming heritage.”

The North Fork Civics coalition, which represents all seven civic associations based throughout Southold Town’s various hamlets, sent a similarly worded letter to the Town Board. The group requested the board “enact a very carefully defined development moratorium that would be limited to not only new resorts, hotels and motels, but also new commercial development, major subdivisions, special exception permit applications, zone change requests and use variances. Such a pause will allow for a clear path forward for such developments in alignment with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan once the Zoning Update is complete.”

During the special meeting at Town Hall, Mr. Stuessi requested Southold consider pausing commercial development. Shortly before he was sworn in as mayor last year, Greenport Village officials enacted a six month moratorium on development in three downtown commercial districts. The pause was extended another six months while Mr. Stuessi was mayor.

“I think the moratorium that the village enacted was enormously effective,” the mayor said in a telephone interview. “We had a well managed process and we were able to do some significant code updates during that process.”

Mr. Stuessi added that after attending various civic meetings, he believes the Southold community has reached a consensus and wants a broader moratorium.

“I think people have all experienced tremendous change over the last few decades on the North Fork, and they’ve seen an acceleration of that in recent years,” he said. “People have a variety of concerns, some of them are environmental, some of them are traffic related. We’re at a point where it makes sense to hit pause and reevaluate things and make certain that we’re going to follow the Comprehensive Plan.”

In a telephone interview following the special meeting, Supervisor Al Krupski said the town is not considering expanding the breadth of its proposed moratorium at this time. He believes doing so on such a broad scope could impair both existing businesses and Town Hall.

“Businesses won’t be readily able to do something they were planning to do,” Mr. Krupski said. “The board would have to hear all those appeals, and there might be some unintended consequences there.

“If you hold up a lot of processes with a [commercial] moratorium, all those things are going to build up,” he continued. “The floodgates are going to open once the moratorium is over, and then it becomes a matter of what the planning staff can and can’t handle … It doesn’t seem the greatest urgency to hold everything up. We’re not losing an opportunity.”

The Town Board is considering the hotel moratorium in order to stop accepting new hotel applications until its comprehensive zoning code overhaul is complete. Southold retained consultant groups ZoneCo LLC and Hardesty & Hanover to take stock of all allowable land uses outlined in each of the town’s 19 current zoning districts and make recommendations that will help officials implement the 13 goals — ranging from land preservation to affordable housing development — put forth in its Comprehensive Plan.

The zoning review will clarify where hotels are currently permitted and at what density. Southold officials can then reassess where hotels should be allowed, the number of rooms per acre of land and whether there should be a cap on the size of any given hotel. Concerns from officials and residents include current infrastructure and environmental impacts, ranging from traffic on Main Road and Sound Avenue, flooding on various roadways, water quality and access to sewer hookups.

Tuesday morning, Mr. Krupski said the zoning update project “is really running on all eight cylinders right now.” He projected the board could ratify a new zoning code in March 2025. The supervisor said he was glad to see such a turnout Tuesday morning, as he believes it indicates the town’s community engagement efforts surrounding the zoning update have been successful.

“This is, I think, the ideal situation, where people understand that big processes are taking place and they can be a part of it,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

There are currently multiple applications for hotel development and expansion before the town. Plans for the new two-story Mattituck Hotel at the former Capital One building on Main Road, owned by the Cardinale family, call for 121 rooms, a 275-seat restaurant, a 300-seat catering facility and indoor and outdoor pools. Alexander Perros, an owner of the recently renovated Silver Sands hotel in Greenport, has submitted an application to transform an existing accessory boathouse on the property into a restaurant. 

At the start of last Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Town Board meeting, Mr. Perros requested that the board allow existing hotels to continue to conduct renovations should it enact a moratorium. He said he received “overwhelming support” from the community to continue to renovate the hotel.

“A blanket type of moratorium that encompasses any type of construction on all hotel applications threatens the viability of establishments like ours to survive,” Mr. Perros said. “Our existing applications in front of the Zoning and Planning boards focus on updating existing structures, not introducing any new developments or expansions.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Krupski said that the proposed hotel moratorium would focus on halting new construction, which the town attorney’s office will clearly define upon producing draft legislation, and include the details for an appeal process that hotel owners could seek to complete renovations during the moratorium.

At its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 23, the Town Board may vote to schedule a public hearing on the hotel moratorium, which would likely occur in June. The town would also have to seek approval from the Suffolk County Planning Commission to enact a hotel moratorium. Should the planning commission deny this request, the Southold Town Board could override that decision with votes from five of its six members. Town Attorney Paul DeChance told the board that at this rate, a moratorium would not take effect until at least “maybe July or early August.”

“I think we have to consider everything that was said today,” Mr. Krupski said. “We’re setting the agenda tomorrow for next Tuesday’s work session. So I’m going to have to poll the board tomorrow or Friday and say ‘Is everyone prepared to move forward with just new [hotel] building, or does anyone have any other thoughts?’ And we’ll see from there.”