Suffolk County Planning Commission rejects Strong’s expansion

The Suffolk County Planning Commission voted June 20 to reject the Strong’s Marine proposal to construct two yacht storage buildings near Mattituck Inlet.

The project is currently under review by the Southold Town Planning Board as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. That board will issue findings statement on the project during their July 8 public meeting.

Strong’s originally submitted a proposal in 2018 to construct two heated buildings for indoor boat storage — 52,000 square feet and 49,000 square feet — at its Mill Road facility in Mattituck. The 32.96-acre parcel is zoned Marine II and R-80, which allows marine uses and low-density residential development.

The proposed buildings could house more than 80 yachts averaging 60 feet in length, with some stretching to 86 feet. The project would also require the removal of 134,00 cubic yards of sand.

The June 20 commission meeting was held specifically to discuss this proposal after it had determined on June 5 that the application was incomplete and requested more information from Southold Town. The town responded by providing a website link to the site plan application folder, which included copies of the November 2022 Draft Environmental Impact Statement as well as the May 2024 Final Environmental Impact Statement, which the Planning Board had hired Hardesty & Hanover LLP of Melville to complete. The town also provided “additional application information including but not limited to received public correspondence,” the report said.

“It is evident that the proposed project as currently designed will result in significant negative environmental impacts,” the county commission said in its report. “These impacts include traffic and noise generation from the trucks required to remove approximately 134,000 cubic yards of excavated materials; the significant excavation area directly adjacent to Mattituck Creek that will result in significant slope disturbance and tree removal; and the potential impacts to Mattituck Creek particularly during the construction phase of the project due to stormwater runoff and erosion.”

Strong’s Marine owner Jeff Strong noted that the county’s report stated the project was for “water-related uses” instead of “water dependent” uses, which he said is inaccurate.

“It’s made abundantly clear in our application that this building project is for boats that average 60 feet in length, so the staff was attempting to say that the boats could be trailered off-site and that’s just not an accurate statement,” Mr. Strong said. He added that various commission members had agreed at the June 20 meeting that the project was a “water dependent” use. He also said that he is considering presenting an amended version of the project. 

“It was recommended by the Suffolk County Planning Commission that we attempt to engage in dialogue with the Southold Town Planning Board, which we are open to doing, Mr. Strong said. “Hopefully they will be open to doing that as well, where we could potentially look at either repositioning or scaling the building size down somewhat so that the amount of sand needed to be trucked off site would be lessened.”

Louise Harrison, Long Island natural areas manager for Save the Sound, attended the meeting and said she was surprised when Mr. Strong said he’d be open to presenting a scaled back plan.

“I was as surprised as everyone else in the room, I think, that he would come into that particular meeting and make that announcement instead of maybe having produced an alternate plan to the town,” she said. “That should have been done prior to them calling that special meeting on his behalf.”

The amended plan would be a supplemental application, which would require an additional review.

Robert De Luca, president and CEO of Group for the East End, explained what that additional review would look like. 

“Frequently in a case like this, where you have a lot of underlying information, you do something called a supplemental environmental impact statement and that statement would be more narrowly focused on whatever it was that you want to propose next,” Mr. De Luca said.

To date, there has been no outreach to the Southold Town planning department on a new plan, according to department director Heather Lanza.

“Nobody has submitted revised plans. They haven’t withdrawn their old plan so officially we’re still working from the original plans,” Ms. Lanza said.

Since the project was first proposed, numerous local civic organizations and scores of residents have raised concerns to local officials. 

Anne Murray, Southold land use coordinator for the North Fork Environmental Council, said the organization is “gratified” by the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s decision.

“They did the right thing, which is important,” Ms. Murray said. “We still have to see what the [Southold] Planning Board will do.”

She said her organization would be happy to review whatever amended plans Mr. Strong submits.

“We certainly wouldn’t dissuade him from doing it — he owns the property, after all,” Ms. Murray said. “It’s just that the project as proposed was what we considered over the top in terms of the environment.”

Save Mattituck Inlet was formed in December 2020 to oppose this specific project. A member of the spoke about the group’s reaction to the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s decision. 

“Our position is the same as it’s always been,” Jeff Pundyk said. “This is a very complex project with lots of data and thousands of pages of commentary, but it really boils down to two pretty basic issues that are of concern to us. The first is drastically changing the topography by removing the hill and all the environmental impacts that come with that and then the second is chucking out 135,000 cubic yards of sand and all the public safety and traffic and quality of life impacts that come with that, so any plan that doesn’t mitigate those two issues will remain a concern for us.”

Mr. Strong reiterated that the land is zoned MII property.

“The town’s own master plan calls for exactly the type of building use that we are attempting to do,” he said, “which is why we purchased this property in the first place, so to not be encouraged by the town to want to continue the maritime use is discouraging at the least.”