A group of CAC-West members, clearly passionate about their community, turned out on Thursday night for a lively discourse on development and other matters of concern in their corner of the world.
The Citizens Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from Westhampton, Speonk, Remsenburg, Eastport and Quogue, held their monthly gathering on Mill Road in Westhampton.
Co-chair Hank Beck kicked off the evening’s agenda with an update of proposed changes to the planned development district.
Some members of the group expressed concerns about the request for amendments put forth by developers Gregg and Mitchell Recher; specifically, changing the height of a hotel planned for the site from two stories to three. The proposal sparked fears that the structure could alter the face of the surrounding landscape.
Members raised concerns about building height and discussed the desire for landscaping and natural vegetation.
“My concern is the potential precedent that could be set,” said Andrea Spilka, a CAC member.
Beck, however, assured that planned development districts are “mutually exclusive” and each is an individual project.
Beck, who supports the changes, outlined the need for hotel rooms in the area, mentioning a number of bed and breakfasts that have shuttered, not due to the economy, but other factors.
There is a need, said Beck, for year-round accomodatons in the area.
As co-chair of the Hamptons Visitors Council, Beck said a hotel at Gabreski could generate income, not only from the occupancy tax alone, but from the influx of visitor spending in area eateries and shops.
There’s a proven need for additional lodging, he said, especially since rooms have been lost in recent months. Staples such as the Inn at Quogue have been sold for private development.
And, he added, the concept of a hotel at the airport has been embraced by the 106th Rescue Wing; Beck said organizations that come yearly for conferences would be able to attend events and find lodging at the new facility.
“I don’t want business to go to Riverhead,” said Beck. Tourism, and not just the building trade, is a major economic engine in the area, he said.
Spilka agreed the Gabreski Airport PDD was a community effort; Beck said in the end, potential development at the site was cut from what was could have potentially evolved.
“Nobody lost a lot of blood,” he said. “Everybody came out with something.”
Next up, the committee discussed an area of Speonk Old Riverhead Road that is being replanted after a lumber business had to tear up soil that was found to be contaminated with arsenic and other chemicals.
Also on the agenda was a update on the controversial tree cutting by Joe Gazza on North Summit Boulevard. Recently, Beck sent out an email to CAC West members, relating the “latest news” on the issue.
According to Marty Shea, Southampton Town’s chief environmental analyst, Gazza has permission to clear three feet of road on the core Pine Barrens side, under a prior set of conditions that actually require him to do it.
“Mr. Gazza could have saved all of us a lot of hours and grief if he had displayed or offered to show the paperwork to anyone of the numerous people who spent their time tracking this down,” wrote Beck, who said the Pine Barrens Commission is now looking at ways that will require the posting of such signage when such work is to be done.
Beck commended member Nichole Dennehy for her hard work on the issue and read a letter she wrote to Shea on subject.
Also discussed was last month’s public hearing on proposed draft legislation relating to planned development districts. Beck urged the group to turn out for the next public hearing at Southampton Town Hall on February 15 at 6 p.m.. Members who cannot attend should send letters to be read into the record, he added.
Other topics on Thursday’s agenda included a change of use at 204 Montauk Highway and a decision that no subdivision will be granted for a property located at 89 North Phillips Avenue in Speonk while outstanding code violations exist at the site.
Discussion ensued about a final environmental impact statement received in regard to Serenity Estates, also on North Phillips.
“I’ve said in the past that it isn’t a proper month, if something doesn’t happen on North Philips,” joked Beck.
The project, located at the old feather factory, involves 15 acres, owned by Barry Bernstein and has been the subject of much community debate over issues such as traffic.
A round of applause was given Spilka for her work in fighting a change of zone in the Eastport hamlet center, on the Brookhaven Town side, that would have meant a potential addition of 60,000 square feet of retail and 15,000 square feet of office space.
“It would have dwarfed everything,” she said. The Brookhaven Town board voted down the measure.
Spilka warned, “We need to keep fighting,” adding that Eastport is a target, because it is the “last bastion of open space in Brookhaven town. And what’s next? Southampton Town,” she said.
Finally, Spilka reported that this week, the Suffolk County legislature was unable to override County Executive Steve Levy’s veto regarding the sex offender trailers that have ignited a public outpouring of opposition in Westhampton and Riverhead. Spilka said Levy is still advocating for a voucher system and the issue remains unresolved, but thanked Legislators Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine for their diligent efforts and said work will continue.
The next CAC West meeting will be held on March 3 at 7 p.m.