Southold Town has 90 days from Tuesday to adopt a Findings Statement to support its proposal to use the power of eminent domain to acquire a property on a hotly contested corner on the Main Road in Mattituck.
The town board heard more than two hours of passionate testimony during a Zoom public hearing Tuesday on whether to acquire the property, which has long been under consideration for a public park on the dangerous curve in Mattituck from the Brinkmann family, who run several Long Island hardware stores. The Brinkmanns plan to build a 12,000-square-foot hardware store and an 8,000-square-foot paint store on the site.
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association (MLCA), formed in 2015, has long been working to increase pedestrian access and implement traffic calming on the blind curve. The Brinkmanns’ 1.7-acre lot sits on the west side of the curve, at the southeast corner of the intersection of New Suffolk Avenue.
The lot had been owned by Bridgehampton National Bank when MLCA first began considering it for a park, and the Brinkmanns have since purchased the property and turned down a $775,000 offer from Southold Town and Suffolk County to purchase and preserve it.
Many members of MLCA spoke at the public hearing.
“We all know what to expect. If a retail store is built at that location, thousands of people will have their quality of life diminished by traffic, and it will turn peaceful residential streets into thoroughfares because motorists will try to avoid bottlenecks,” said MLCA President Charles Gueli. “Do we need more retail in Southold? There’s been plenty of empty retail space in Mattituck for decades.”
Hank Brinkmann, who has pitched the project to the community with his brother, Ben Brinkmann, said he believes Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell had ulterior motives for wanting to acquire the property, and demanded to know what they were.
“I believe you have lost your way and your priorities are not in interest of your constituents,” said Mr. Brinkmann. “You’ve taken it upon yourself to keep my family from doing business in your town.”
Mr. Russell said the Brinkmann family had “enlisted just about every political heavy hitter in Suffolk County to try to meet with me” to push the project.
“I don’t even know you. I don’t know your family,” he said. “I don’t understand where you’re coming from and I’m gonna hold my tongue because of pending litigation.”
A woman named Tami, who did not give her last name but said she had lived in Mattituck for decades, said she “was kind of appalled at the thing Brinkmann just said. He sounds like a petulant child who did not get his way.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be from here,” she said. “That piece is priceless to us. We don’t need greedy outsiders. We need green space where we can sit in peace.”
North Fork Environmental Council Vice President Mark Haubner said the town’s traffic study had listed the intersection where the hardware store would be as one of the top five most dangerous intersections in the town.
“It’s been a focal point of the community for decades,” he said, adding that the NFEC, which neighbors the property, and MLCA have agreed to maintain any park that would be established there.
Both the town’s 2005 hamlet study of Mattituck and stakeholder meetings held in 2007 and 2008 had found the lot to be an ideal one for a village green-type park. The town’s comprehensive plan update, which is in the final draft form but not yet adopted, also calls for a park in the area. The site is also within an area subject to a building moratorium while studies underway are completed.
Ben Brinkmann added that he wasn’t surprised that members of the civic association opposed the project because “I know what I’m gonna get when go to a civic meeting. If I go to a soccer meeting going to get a bunch of people who like soccer…. that’s why I was undeterred when I heard a bunch of things like ‘Go away. Nobody wants you, and completely unconstructive comments.”
Builder Paul Pawlowski, who had proposed building an indoor sports facility on the Main Road west of downtown Mattituck that was shot down by neighbors, was skeptical of the town’s stated intent to build a park.
As an investor, I would be very cautious about investing in this district again,” he said. “The park is not nearly as important as peoples’ basic rights. A park will bring more traffic than a hardware store.”
Paige Romanowski, who owns BodyRite Training next door to the Brinkmanns’ paint store in Jamesport, was unimpressed by the proposal.
“How much has the effort to shoot the Brinkmanns down cost the taxpayers so far?” she asked. “What the town is proposing is very, very expensive and it doesn’t seem like a well-formulated plan to begin with. Building a park is not something our town has been crying and begging for for years.”
“The town cannot accommodate the enormous number of people coming out here season after season,” she added. “I’m extremely concerned for the future of the town and the lack of support the town continually shows toward new businesses.”
Meryl Kramer, an architect who said she lives “within a stone’s throw” of the property and is a MLCA member, said the plan put forth for the park is not for playgrounds or recreational fields.
“It wouldn’t be a place where people drive up and play softball,” she said. “It would be open space to be used by people who are on Love Lane, or work in downtown Mattituck, a passive recreation space where you could sit under a tree, have a sandwich and be on your way.”
“If you look at things from a designer’s standpoint, there are a lot of tools in the toolbox to facilitate pedestrian walkways,” she added.
“Unfortunately, with all the studies going on, the board has to deal with this in this retroactive way, but we are here now and I think that taking this prop is definitely justified by a greater public good,” she said. “I am in support of eminent domain.”
Real estate agent Patricia Berg made a point of saying she is a Republican, like the majority of the town board, and said that many of her clients are calling worried that the town could take their property.
“As a realtor, how can I talk to my customers? I’m so upset by this,” she said, then called out Fishers Island board member Louisa Evans. “Louisa, would you like it if they took the residences on Fishers Island and said oh we’ll put hotels there so more people can come there? I’m a Republican and my vote is not going to go to people who do stuff like this.”
John Carter, a past president of MLCA, said he believes the onus should have been on the Brinkmanns to do their due diligence and determine if the community wanted a hardware store on the corner before they bought it.
He added that the community “has a ball around its ankle” because the town has not yet adopted its comprehensive plan, and added that the current zoning dates back to the 1970s.
“We can all agree this is not the same intersection it was 50 years ago,” he said. “This board’s legacy will be what’s on that corner, and eminent domain and the parties involved will not be remembered. Eminent domain is no one’s first choice. Eminent domain is not wrong per se and it’s not unconstitutional per se. It is a last resort. Vote yes on it.”
After the town drafts its findings statement within 90 days, it must provide notice of that document in local newspapers, after which it will be served to the Brinkmanns, “either by personal service or certified mail.”
That document would include a description of the public purpose to be served by the acquisition, the reason the town selected the location, and the effect of the project on residents and the environment and other factors deemed to be relevant.