Pictured Above: Strong’s Yacht Center, on Mattituck Inlet. The proposed yacht storage buildings would be on the wooded hill to the right of this photograph.

Update 6/14/24:

The Suffolk County Planning Commission, which was initially not slated to meet again until July 10, has scheduled a special meeting for next Thursday, July 20 at 2 p.m. at the H. Lee Denison building in Hauppauge to discuss the Strong’s Yacht Center yacht storage proposal. The public can attend the meeting, which is in person only. Here’s the meeting notice.

Original Story Follows:

After much debate, the Suffolk County Planning Commission deemed Southold Town’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Strong’s Yacht Center’s proposed yacht storage buildings on the Mattituck Inlet incomplete at its June 5 meeting.

The Commission said it plans to ask the town to provide more information about possible alternatives to the plan to remove about 130,000 cubic yards of sand from a hillside to build two 50,000-square-foot yacht storage buildings.

The proposal has galvanized the North Fork community, which turned out in force at two public hearings on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by Strong’s consultants, P.W. Grosser Consulting, Inc. last spring.

At the time, many argued that the project would have a major impact on the environment, and many others argued that the Strong family’s expanding marina business has been an economic engine driving the North Fork.

Southold Town’s Planning Board, which is the lead agency on the project under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), then hired its own consultant, Hardesty & Hanover, to prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS, which was accepted by the town’s Planning Board May 6 and referred to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for review, proved to be harshly critical of the applicant’s initial environmental review of the project.

The Planning Commission’s staff had recommended denial of the application in its report uploaded to its website June 3, citing “several large adverse impacts associated with the proposal that can be neither avoided nor minimized nor mitigated to the maximum extent practicable.”

The primary impacts listed by the staff include the nature and duration of traffic and noise generated by the proposed excavation, and the possible impacts of “uncertain slopes being left exposed to the elements for uncertain lengths of time adjacent to Mill Road Preserve, surface waters and tidal wetlands.”

Planning Commission members, who met June 5 via Microsoft Teams, seemed to have widely varying experience with the SEQRA process and how to proceed with reviewing the FEIS.

Some members, including Southold Town’s representative on the Commission, real estate agent Thomas McCarthy, also said they had received dozens of pages of documents from Strong’s environmental consultant, P.W. Grosser, refuting the findings of the FEIS just prior to the meeting, which they wanted to review.

P.W. Grosser Vice President Kim Gennaro told the Planning Commission during the public comment period at the start of the June 5 meeting that the FEIS “made claims of errors and omissions without any detail,” and didn’t take into account her firm’s analysis of the impact of sea level rise on the project. She said septic systems included with the proposal would be IA/OWTS nitrogen-reducing systems, but the FEIS said they would be conventional systems.

Jeff Strong, the President of Strong’s Marine, told the Commission his company had been told repeatedly by town officials that he could build the storage buildings under the existing zoning at the site before the company began its application process, and had hired 10 consultants over the past five-and-a-half years to guide their project.

“We want to keep it as a shipyard and not sell to developers. Please help us do that,” he said. “The site has always been, since the 1960s, a yacht storage marina.”

Mr. Strong added that his company would also like to present an “alternative phasing plan of excavation,” removing half of the sand at the site the first winter, and then putting the project on hold during the busy summer season and removing the second half of the sand the following winter.

“It would not change the number of trips, but would phase it in over two winters,” he said.

Group for the East End Senior Environmental Advocate Jennifer Hartnagel said The Group “strongly agrees with the FEIS findings” and the county staff report finding several significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated.

She said the project makes “zero sense from a coastal resiliency standpoint” and is “wholly inconsistent with Southold Town’s adopted 2020 Comprehensive Plan.”

Citing the potential impact on water quality, tidal wetlands, publicly owned open space and “ecosystem services, including endangered species habitat,” in addition to climate impacts and inconsistency with Southold Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Save the Sound’s Long Island Natural Areas Manager, Louise Harrison, also recommended denial.

But some members of the Commission, including Mr. McCarthy, said they wanted more time to digest materials they’d received.

“I have not personally been able to review all the information that has come in. Twenty to 30 pages came in within an hour, which pointed out inconsistencies with our staff report,” said Mr. McCarthy. “I’m asking that we push this over to our next meeting, and give board members time to get reeducated on some of the details.”

“I did not receive the comments, but frankly that would not change my opinion at this point in time,” said Commission Vice Chair Michael Kaufman. “They do not rise to a level that discredits our staff report. The issues are a little larger than that.”

But, he said, “I defer to Commissioner McCarthy. It is his town.”

The Commissioners initially tabled the application in an 10 to 1 vote (four members of the 15-member commission were absent), but about an hour after tabling it, when many interested parties had already left the virtual meeting, decided to revisit it.

After a lengthy discussion in which county planning staff and counsel advised them on the details of the Staff Report and the SEQRA process, the Commissioners then went into executive session for advice from their counsel, placing the public in their virtual meeting waiting room for the better part of an hour before returning to public session to unanimously deem the project incomplete.

Southold’s Planning Board next meets on July 1, at which time it may have considered adopting its findings statement and issuing a final determination on the project. But that board had been awaiting the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s advice on the application, and the Planning Commission does not meet again until July 10.

The Southold Planning Board could overrule the Planning Commission’s ultimate recommendation by a majority plus one vote. The Commission must act upon the referral of a municipal action within 45 days of the receipt of a full statement of the proposed action, according to Suffolk County law.

Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza said June 6 that the town is awaiting a written request from the Planning Commission for what additional information is needed.

— Beth Young

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the Planning Commission’s next meeting is July 3. It is July 10.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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