East Quogue golf course plan spurs debate on tax revenue and toxic tides
One of the last large undeveloped and unpreserved pieces of land in Southampton Town could soon be a 436-acre golf course with 82 houses on it.
The property, on Lewis Road in East Quogue, is not far from the headwaters of Weesuck Creek, which empties into western Shinnecock Bay, one of the most impaired water bodies on the East End.
In order to build the golf course, called “The Hills at East Quogue,” developers need Southampton Town to issue them a change of zone from a residential zoning district to a mixed use planned development district.
People in East Quogue had mixed views about the proposal at a public hearing on the zone change before the Southampton Town Board Tuesday afternoon. Some welcomed the estimated $3.5 million in tax revenue, which they said would offset costs at the school without sending more students to the district, while others worried that fertilizer from the golf course and nitrogen from the septic systems in the houses could end up in the bay.
Southampton Town has already approached the developer about preserving the property for preservation, but could not offer a high enough price to pique their interest, said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst at Tuesday’s meeting.
The project’s environmental planner, Chic Voorhis, told the board his clients are aware that they can only fertilize 15 percent of the property, and they are looking into putting a modular waste treatment system on the site to keep nitrogen from entering the bay.
Vanessa Astrop, who lives near the proposed golf course, pointed out that the golf course sits over the the pine barrens’ aquifer protection overlay district.
“The area in question is part of the unique pine barrens ecosystem defined as needing protection,” she said. “It purifies drinking water and provides habitat.”
She added that scientists have been busy raising public awareness about the dangers of increased nitrogen in the bay.
“[Peconic Baykeeper] Kevin McAllister says ‘it all ends up in the bay. no matter where you are, it ends up in the bay,” she said. “This is another nail in the coffin of Shinnecock Bay.”
Cathy Seliger, who owns a business on Main Street, said she welcomes the ‘extra tax money to help the school district, and hopes the project will bring well-heeled people into the community.
“It’s exciting for business owners,” she said. “I have four children in the school district and I know first-hand the issues affecting them. Kids can’t be bused home late, JV sports are cut and there’s no foreign language anymore…. The school is hurting very much for money.”
Skip Heaney, the legislative director for the Southampton Business Alliance, told the board he was saddened that the project was a “target of a disinformation program” by environmentalists.
“The Hills PDD provides a significant tax relief to residents. It’s the fulfillment of more than 40 years of long-term planning,” he said.
Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, reminded residents that if the zoning change is approved, the project will still go through a stringent state environmental quality review before the town’s planning board.
William Kearns, who lives on Spinney Road near the proposed golf course, said “the idea of a golf course behind my house doesn’t upset me that much. It’s king of a nice thing. What does upset me is the words of Dr. Gobler,” a Stony Brook Southampton professor who has been researching harmful algae blooms in Shinnecock Bay.
“As the bays continue to die, brown tide, green tide red tide, golf course tide — you name it, it’s coming in,” he said.
Dr. Gobler also urged caution.
“The epicenter of all the problems we’re having is within Weesuck Creek,” he said. “That’s only 1,000 feet from where this development is being proposed. We’ve lost the hard clam population and the eelgrass bed. We’re having recurrent brown tides.”
“This is a very sensitive watershed in an area with exceedingly high levels of nitrogen. It’s the largest undeveloped property in Southampton,” he said. “We are trying at Stony Brook to make things better. We know very clearly things are going to get worse.”
The town board closed the public hearing and gave residents two weeks to submit written comments.
The golf course plan is available online here.