Seventeen neighbors of the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court Dec. 16 against both the Waterfront Fund and the Southold Town Planning Board over the board’s approval on Nov. 17 of the non-profit Waterfront Fund’s plan to renovate and re-open the Galley Ho restaurant.
The neighbors include Summer Girl emporium owners and residents of First Street Kim and Daniel Petrie; New Suffolk Civic Association member Thomas McCloskey; William Grella of First Street, who had formerly been a supporter of the Waterfront Fund’s preservation efforts; and Diane and Dennis Harkoff, owners of Legends Restaurant.
Also joining in the suit are New Suffolk residents Victoria Germaise, Phyllis Curott, Aida Hartung, William Hartung, Ted Victoria, George Kunz, Mary Fields, Stephen Bondarchuk, Cheryl Bondarchuk, Ann Ekster and Barbara Solo.
The litigants, who declined to be interviewed for this story, allege in the suit that the “Waterfront Fund-turned-Developer has generated tremendous community opposition as many now believe the Fund has acted like a wolf in sheep’s clothing; where all prior private developers were subjected to intense public scrutiny and stringent environmental review by the respondent planning board, the Waterfront Fund as a developer received from the planning board a determination that its development scheme was exempt from environmental review.”
The Waterfront Fund was formed as an offshoot of the New Suffolk Civic Association in 2005 for the purpose of protecting the then-3.4-acre property from development. They took title to the property in 2010 and in 2012 sold the southernmost acre of the property to the owners of Robins Island.
They now have a New York State conservation easement on a portion of the remaining 2.4 acres, which is used for a community garden and boat storage, but have been at work rebuilding a marina and plan to renovate the Galley Ho on the land not covered by the easement.
Since the planning board approval, the Waterfront Fund has installed a security fence around the Galley Ho and put down hay bails to prevent runoff into the bay from the project. Last week, they began clearing the lot for the Galley Ho’s new foundation, but it is unclear if they will be able to pour concrete before the deep freeze expected this week slows down the work.
Neighbors had sought an injunction to prevent work from proceeding while the case is argued, but that injunction was denied last week, according to town officials.
According to the neighbors’ lawsuit “the board of the Waterfront Fund decided not to preserve the property in a manner consistent with the wishes of the community, who donated to acquire the property for open space and recreational use.”
They argue that the project shouldn’t have been characterized as a “Type II” project by the planning board under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, due to its proximity to both the state conservation easement and to Cutchogue Harbor, a designated Critical Environmental Area.
If the project had been Type I instead of Type II, the Waterfront Fund would have been required to complete an extensive and costly Environmental Impact Statement before it was approved by the planning board.
They also allege that the planning board “described the scope of the proposed development far more narrowly than the developer’s plans for development of the site actually are,” citing a 20-percent increase in the seating capacity of the restaurant, its relocation (due to Hurricane Sandy) and the replacement of 478 square feet of a storm-destroyed section of the building, the installation of a greatly enlarged septic system and the construction of 1,612 square feet of wood decking.
“Over the past 30 years, numerous owners of the property have sought approvals from the respondent Southold Town Planning Board to re-develop the property as a commercial marina with boat storage, boat repair and restaurant,” the neighbors allege. “All of these efforts were vigorously opposed by the residents of New Suffolk, and the respondent planning board subjected each of the various proposals to withering scrutiny, including intense review of the potential environmental impacts of these proposals.”
The petitioners demanded in the suit that the planning board reverse and annul the site plan approval. Attorneys for the town, the neighbors and the Waterfront Fund are due back in court Jan. 21.