More than a year-and-a-half after Hurricane Sandy barreled through downtown New Suffolk, a quiet storm is brewing in this bucolic port over the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s plan to re-open the old Galley Ho restaurant, which was severely damaged during the storm.
The Galley Ho, whose foundation was washed out with the storm waves, is currently sitting on metal I-beams and cribbing, awaiting site plan review. The Waterfront Fund recently turned in a site plan application to the Southold Planning Board to re-open the restaurant with 66 seats, a small expansion of its footprint, and three new elevated decks totaling 1,200 square feet.
According to the site plan, the building will also be raised 10 feet above sea level and a concrete retaining wall will be built to keep it above the FEMA-designated floodplain and to meet Suffolk County Health Department requirements for elevation of the septic system. Their full site plan is available on the town’s website here.
Neighbors and business owners along First Street in New Suffolk, whose properties were also damaged during Hurricane Sandy, began circulating a petition this weekend urging the planning board to consider the impact the project will have on the neighborhood, and they’ve begun to win support from other New Suffolk residents who live farther from the water but had believed the Waterfront Fund was preserving open space, not opening a restaurant.
According to the neighbors’ petition, “instead of a harborside snack bar amid open space with scenic bay views, this plan has gone from preservation to development and includes an elevated restaurant with 66 seats, behind concrete retaining walls, in an area leveled by Superstorm Sandy. The NSWF has not been transparent about their change in goals and many in the community are not happy with what they’ve learned from meetings and sparse documents.”
The planning board will hold a public hearing on the project on June 2 at 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall.
The Waterfront Fund began nearly a decade ago as an offshoot of the New Suffolk Civic Association aimed at combatting the potential development of the scenic then-three-acre site, the home of the nation’s first submarine base in the heart of New Suffolk, as either a boatyard with industrial metal boat storage buildings or as a private yacht club. The fund took title to the property in 2010.
Last year, the Waterfront Fund sold the southernmost acre to hedge fund billionaire Louis Moore Bacon III, who owns Robins Island, and used the money to pay off their mortgage on the rest of the property. New York State holds a conservation easement on the southern and western side of their remaining land, but the Waterfront Fund has retained the right to build on the land that’s left.
Diane Harkoff, co-owner of Legends Restaurant, across the street from the Galley Ho, is helping organize the petition drive, which has already garnered several dozen signatures.
“A few years ago, they came over to ask if we had an objection to a snack bar there,” she said this week. “This complete about-face is unbelievable to me.”
“They duped us. That’s what they sold us,” said Ms. Harkoff, who initially donated to the Waterfront Fund’s campaign. “People think it was going to be open space, scenic views, a community center and a snack bar.”
Ms. Harkoff said she doesn’t object to the competition of another restaurant in New Suffolk — for years, the Galley Ho and Legends both operated in the same neighborhood — but she doesn’t understand why a non-profit would chose to run a commercial restaurant, and she believes Waterfront Fund members have not been upfront with the community about their goals.
She said she had at one point offered them help with a business plan to help keep their operating budget sustainable, but had been rebuffed by the Waterfront Fund’s board.
“They professed transparency, but when I asked for financials, the answer was ‘no,'” she said. “Now the site plan was filed one month ago, and not one person in the community knew.”
New Suffolk Waterfront Fund Chairwoman Pat McIntyre, who took over the reins this past winter, said this week that she believes the campaign afoot in downtown New Suffolk is misinforming people about the elevation of the project, which is above sea level, not above ground level.
She said the site is already 4.5 to 5 feet above sea level and the Galley Ho will be raised about 5.25 feet above ground level. She added that the Waterfront Fund has already raised the bulkhead around the property by two feet, which should protect the neighborhood, and will be containing all the stormwater runoff on-site.
The buildings only cover 7.3 percent of the lot, she said, when town zoning allows them to cover 30 percent.
“Everything we’ve done is within zoning,” she said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
“If we can’t sustain this property, somebody could develop it at 30 percent activity relating to marine use,” she said. “The DEC wanted to buy this and we turned them down because they wanted boat trailer parking and a boat launch area. It would have been trailer-parking heaven. We turned down many inappropriate offers.”
But Ms. Harkoff is wondering why reopening the Galley Ho is the only option they deemed appropriate.
“I don’t know what they hope to gain by doing this,” she said. “What lease would offset the cost of this significant project, unless someone with significant money is waiting in the wings? It all seems shady.”
Ms. McIntyre said the Waterfront Fund has not yet begun interviewing potential restaurant operators.
“We wanted to get through this process before we solicited potential folks to run the restaurant,” she said. “It’s a lovely location and we intend to have some restrictions on it. We don’t want TVs and we don’t want loud music. We don’t want them to be open until one o’clock in the morning.”
Ms. McIntyre said the Waterfront Fund hasn’t yet decided how much to charge to lease the building, and said she was unsure of her organization’s annual operating budget.
“We don’t know what we could lease it for,” she said. “We would like them to be successful.”
Ms. Harkoff said the neighborhood is already prone to flooding, and she worries that the heightened elevation of the new Galley Ho will make that flooding much worse.
The neighbors’ petition also says that “FEMA has warned about development in flood zones and changing what we’ve done in the past; Superstorm Sandy has shown how vulnerable a flood zone New Suffolk is. This project only increases the possibility of complete environmental destruction and potential litigation by those impacted.”
“NSWF’s apparent change in mission to make this property into their own moneymaker rather than a preserved open space is troubling to those who choose to live in a quiet beach community,” it adds.
Ms. Harkoff also said she doesn’t believe the proposed parking lot, which provides space for 38 cars for both the 66-seat restaurant and the 16-slip marina, is large enough to accommodate the cars in an area that already suffers serious congestion on busy evenings.
In her own restaurant, she said, 14 employees are often working on busy nights, while the Waterfront Fund’s plan calls for just one employee parking spot.
The Waterfront Fund’s longtime chairwoman, Barbara Schnitzler, stepped down this winter.
In a farewell letter to New Suffolk residents this winter, Ms. Schnitzler said “over 500 individuals have donated almost $2 million since we became a non-profit organization…We can all be proud of our rare accomplishment — preventing too-big development of our waterfront, and keeping it open and accessible.”
“I have no problem with them individually,” said Ms. Harkoff of members of the Waterfront Fund, who include many neighbors and friends in this tiny community. “I don’t believe we have to be enemies because we don’t like what somebody is doing.”
Ms. Schnitzler said the construction work is being funded by a 30-year Small Business Administration loan at 3 percent interest, which will cover about 60 percent of the proposed work. The Small Business Administration was responsible for providing relief in the form of loans to businesses after Hurricane Sandy.
“As a result, we will be able to get the property up and running much sooner than we could have imagined,” said Ms. Schnitzler. “Once it is fully operational, we project that the Waterfront will become self-sustaining.”
Danny and Kim Petrie, who own Summer Girl, a boutique next door to Legends, hung a copy of the Waterfront Fund’s site plan for the Galley Ho in the front window of their store over the weekend, urging residents to attend an informational meeting the Waterfront Fund is hosting at the New Suffolk School on May 17 at 10 a.m.
“This gigantic development will have a huge impact on or tiny hamlet and beautiful bay FOREVER,” Ms. Petrie wrote and then highlighted in yellow in the site plan. “Is this how you thought we were preserving our waterfront?? We want to know.”
They’re also asking their customers to sign on to the petition.
“Danny and I feel that the NSWF has been deceptive about their final plan — we thought we were working to preserve the waterfront and its scenic vistas, when actually it seems they want to create a huge commercial development as a non-profit. It doesn’t make sense,” said Ms. Petrie. “We feel fooled, especially since the Peconic Land Trust was so helpful to them in the beginning. We have been told there is no Plan B, but many of us thought at most there was going to be a park with a seasonal snack bar/community house.”
“Our biggest concern is the negative impact something of this size will have on our tiny hamlet of 300 residences, and the pollution it will create in the bay,” she added. “The proposed parking lot will drain right into the bay and the large above-ground septic system is in a known flood zone. When are we going to learn? In the summer, the parking is already pretty crazy, so much so that the New Suffolk Civic Association has complained to the town that there is a dangerous situation and they want “no parking” signs put up on Second Street. We think this will make it way worse.”
“It looks like we might be making some enemies,” said Mr. Petrie, “but it happens sometimes.”