Press Releases

Lawsuit Challenges Controversial Southampton ZBA Ruling On “The Hills”

(aka Lewis Road Planned Residential Development – PRD)
Elected Officials, Environmentalists, Civic Groups, and Neighbors Join to File Suit

(East Quogue, NY… December 2018) A controversial decision by the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has been challenged in State Supreme Court by elected leaders, environmentalists, civic organizations and individual citizens.

While citing no similar type of development anywhere in Southampton Town’s fragile Aquifer Protection Overlay District, in a split decision, the ZBA ruled on November 15, 2018, that the massive 590-acre golf course resort project could be considered by the Southampton Town Planning Board under town zoning rules principally established to protect open space and the natural environment. In response, a lawsuit challenging this controversial ruling has been filed. The parties bringing the action are the environmental organizations Group for the East End and Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the East Quogue Civic Association, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and several neighbors to the proposed project – which is nearly identical to the former “Hills at Southampton” Planned Development District (PDD) golf resort proposal.

The decision comes a little more than a year after The Hills at Southampton PDD, proposed by same the Arizona-based developer, Discovery Land Company, was rejected on environmental grounds by the Southampton Town Board. In its recent decision, the ZBA argued that the proposal’s 18-hole championship golf course situated alongside the proposal’s 118 luxury estates and condominiums, all within the Town’s most restrictive water protection zoning, was simply an accessory use and did not constitute a second primary use of the site. The lawsuit asserts that the project’s expansive residential development and 18-hole golf course are clearly two distinct primary uses of the site, which is prohibited under town zoning. The proposed project lies in the Southampton Pine Barrens, a state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Area and Critical Environmental Area.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said, “The developers would never have spent four years trying to get the property approved under the now defunct Planned Development District zoning provision if they could have legally built it under the rules governing PRD’s. We think the ZBA was simply wrong on the law and hope to overturn the decision.”

Petitioner, New York State Assemblyman and former Southampton Town Supervisor, Fred W. Thiele has repeatedly argued that the intensity of situating a golf course and full-density residential resort development is at odds with decades of town planning and the underlying state and local laws which require land preservation as part of any development proposal known as a Planned Residential Development – legislation that he authored for the Town.

According to Mr. Thiele, “The decision by the ZBA challenged in this proceeding flies in the face of nearly four decades of conservation efforts by actually increasing land use intensity in this critical area, thereby risking water quality at a time when water quality efforts are intensifying due to a continuing degradation of water quality.”

The legal action also charges that the lack of any public deliberation among the ZBA members and the absence of public inclusion in the debate violates the New York State Open Meetings Law. Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the State Committee on Open Government, which oversees application of the law, says that by members voting simply “yes” or “no” without deliberating the pros and cons in public they fail to abide by the basic principles of open government. Mr. Freeman said a court has the authority to invalidate the board’s decision on this basis alone.

The petitioner’s attorney, Jeffrey Bragman, said “This lawsuit challenges a reckless ZBA interpretation that revived a golf course/subdivision after it was properly rejected by the Town Board. Moreover, the development threatens groundwater and undermines open space protections in the town’s last remaining unprotected expanse of fragile Pine Barrens habitat.”

Long Island Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Richard Amper said, “The developers’ efforts to pull an end-around the Town Board’s disapproval of the project must be rejected by the court. The ZBA action is not merely wrong – it’s against the law.”

The lawsuit was filed in State Supreme Court on December 19, 2018.

Contact:
Robert DeLuca, Group for the East End, (631) 475-0601
Richard Amper, Long Island Pine Barrens Society, (516) 383-5391