After a broad swath of the New Suffolk community expressed concerns about the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s plan to re-open the Galley Ho restaurant on a swath of land at the heart of the historic hamlet, the Waterfront Fund revised the plan in August, removing a historic barn at the center of the property in order to allow for a lower-profile septic system for their proposed 66-seat restaurant.
The original proposed height of the Galley Ho, which would have involved raising the grade of the restaurant by 10 feet above sea level and about 5.25 feet above ground level in order to raise the building above the flood plain and build a septic system, is a concern for many who live in New Suffolk, as is parking, the use of the property for special events and the concern of many in the community that the Waterfront Fund, a non-profit corporation originally formed to preserve the property from development, is pursuing commercial use of the property.
The revised septic system, made possible by the removal of the barn from the site plan, will allow the Waterfront Fund to lower the grade of the restaurant by a foot and install lower retaining walls to contain the fill brought in to the site, according to Town Planner Brian Cummings, who is shepherding the project through the planning board process.
The New Suffolk Civic Association circulated a survey in August to 261 residents of New Suffolk asking them how they would like to see the property used. They plan to unveil the results of that survey at a meeting Saturday morning, Sept. 13, at 10 a.m. at the New Suffolk School.
Meanwhile, the Waterfront Fund’s revised site plan met with favorable views from the Southold Town Planning Board during its first review at the Sept. 8 work session, after the board sat through two lengthy evenings of heated discussion at public hearings earlier this summer.
While Mr. Cummings, in his report from planning staff, suggested the Waterfront Fund include parking on site for a park, community garden and boat storage area on a portion of the site covered by a New York State conservation easement, planning board members said they didn’t believe that parking was necessary.
Mr. Cummings also suggested the Waterfront Fund dedicate a head-in parking area along First Street, which is halfway in the town right of way and halfway on the Waterfront Fund property, to the town for public parking.
“I was a little surprised by the suggestion that the community garden or boat storage might require parking. They’re commuity driven and minimal in size,” the Waterfront Fund’s attorney, Gail Wickham, told the planning board. “Both uses could be eliminated if the board thinks there’s going to be a parking issue, but that would be unfortunate.”
Ms. Wickham said her clients have “serious issues” with the suggestion that the parking on First Street be dedicated to the town. She said the parking there had been leased by Legends Restaurant, across the street from the site, until this year. Dennis and Diane Harkoff, who own Legends and were former supporters of the Waterfront Fund, have been some of the most vocal opponents of the Waterfront Fund’s current plans.
Ms. Wickham said dedication of the land to the town would involve dealing with “creditors, the health department and other issues” that could take months of work and throw them off from their effort to begin the project quickly.
According to financial information released by the Waterfront Fund after members of the community asked why the finances of the organization are not public information, the Waterfront Fund still owes $268,000 on a $500,000 loan from The Conservation Fund used to buy the property, and received a $782,000 post-Hurricane Sandy line of credit from the Small Business Administration, which they have used to reconstruct the marina at the property and plan to use to rebuild the Galley Ho once the site plan is complete.
According to their financial report, they had received $14,000 of that loan by mid-June and had expected to receive $300,000 more by the end of June, but they began making payments on the loan of $41,000 in January 2014. The SBA loan is a 30 year loan at 3 percent interest.
Planning Board Chairman Don Wilcenski said the planning board needs an answer on the plans for the First Street parking in order to complete its review.
“We dont want to slow this project down but it is a major point of the whole site plan,” said Mr. Wilcenski. “We cant approve something that we’re not 100 percent sure of…. There’s a serious parking issue in the whole waterfront area. Part of the board’s job is to mitigate problems. It’s up to you to make that decision.”
Former Waterfront Fund Chair Barbara Schnitzler asked if they could show “half-spots” on the site plan, while current Waterfront Fund Chair Pat McIntyre suggested a solid line be drawn on the site plan indicating that the parking is considered parallel parking in the town right of way, but planning staff were quick to point out that, if that line is drawn, the Waterfront Fund will need to adhere to the new parking scheme.
“We have to treat you the same as any other applicant,” said Planning Director Heather Lanza when asked if the Waterfront Fund could keep its current parking plan but denote it differently on the plan.
Ms. Wickham also balked at planning staff’s suggestion that the Waterfront Fund include in their site plan the number of “signature events,” fundraisers held by the organization, in a given year.
She said the Zoning Board of Appeals has oversight over the number of events allowed at the site, but said later that the Waterfront Fund did not need a special events permit for its Chowderfest this year because it didn’t involve a tent.
“The nature of events may be constantly changing over the years,” she said, adding that events are “self-limiting” by the number of volunteers needed to put each one on. “This board has limits. The town has regulations and the ZBA has oversight.”
The town does not require special events permits for most events held by non-profits on their own property, and the Waterfront Fund did not obtain a town permit for the Chowderfest, a dinner fundraiser under a tent on the site in July or an evening were several food trucks were parked at the waterfront in conjunction with the Wednesday night sailboat races around Robin’s Island, drawing a crowd to the waterfront and neighboring streets.
According to the town code, “Any event held on property owned by a not-for profit for its own fundraising that is contained on site and has adequate parking, ingress, egress, traffic control and sanitary facilities to host such an event” does not require a permit.
Members of the planning board seemed unaware that special events put on by the non-profit owners of the property do not require special events permits.
“We have enough regulation. Let’s leave it at that,” said board member Bill Cremers.
“This is an M2 zone and you’re absolutely underutilizing the property,” said board member Jim Rich. “I’m not going to be popular but that’s how I feel.”
“This would further define major events,” said board member Pierce Rafferty. “In general, I’m sympathetic to non-definition.”
“There’s enough regulation,” agreed board member Martin Sidor.
The planning board has not yet officially voted on the project.
Meanwhile, down on First Street, there are now two drawings of the revised site plan competing for the attention of people who regularly walk this tiny downtown, a testament to how factionalized New Suffolk has become over the issue.
In front of the waterfront is a diagram of the new site, with a meadow in place where the historic barn had been, accompanied by a sign that says “New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s Simple Plan: Renovate the Galley Ho, install a new septic system, landscape the property, continue rebuilding the marina, provide open space and access to the bay for all, for ever.”
In the front window of Summer Girl is another depiction of the new plan, with the words “septic field” colored in marker over the Waterfront Fund’s meadow, along with cars and boat storage drawin into the plan. The sign also asks what’s going to happen with the barn, which is on the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities’ list of historic buildings on Long Island and was recommended for preservation in the planning staff report, along with the Galley Ho, a significantly newer building.
Also in Summer Girl’s window is a letter that several concerned community members have been circulating since the site plan was revised, asking why the Waterfront Fund has decided to remove the barn, which they had touted as a historic resource for the community.
“If NSWF goes ahead with a new Galley Ho restaurant and removes the barn, there will be no facility for the community’s use,” reads the letter, which also asks why round table discussions promised by the Waterfront Fund in August have not yet happened.
“How did a small group of self-selected individuals, many of whom are either part-time or non-residents of New Suffolk, become the owners and sole decision-makers for the Waterfront?” the letter asks. “Why did the NSWF abandon its obligation to protect and preserve the Waterfront and pursue commercial development instead.”
“We want the site plans withdrawn, the Waterfront protected from development, the NSWF restructured to reflect the community’s wishes, and the property transferred to New Suffolk residents as was intended,” they added. “Hope to see you at the NYSCA 9/13 meeting.”