The Suffolk County Planning Commission has disapproved of Strong’s Yacht Center’s proposal to excavate a hillside to build two roughly 50,000-square-foot yacht storage buildings alongside Mattituck Inlet.

The project is currently under coordinated review by the Southold Town Planning Board under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and the Planning Commission’s disapproval is an advisory recommendation that can be overridden by the Town Planning Board.

Pictured Above, from left: Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza, Jeff Strong and attorneys Charles Cuddy and David Altman at the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s July 20 meeting.

Members of the Commission were at odds over the application, and passed the disapproval motion in an 8-4 vote at a special meeting June 20. 

Their action may be moot, however, as Strong’s representatives said they’d asked that morning to meet with Southold Town planners to discuss a scaled down version of their plan.

“We are open to scaling back the building size, and significantly scaling back the sand transported from the site,” Strong’s Marine President Jeff Strong told the Planning Commission at the meeting, which was called specifically to discuss this application after the Commission deemed it incomplete, seeking more information from Southold Town, at its June 5 meeting.

The project comes under scrutiny from the County Planning Commission because it is within 500 feet of a navigable creek. 

The Southold Planning Board recently submitted its consultant’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which highlighted several major environmental impacts of the project that could not be mitigated, to the Commission for review.

The Commission had initially deemed the application incomplete after much confusion amongst members over the SEQRA process (the agency doesn’t often handle SEQRA matters) and after receiving a significant amount of last-minute paperwork from Strong’s consultants just prior to the June 5 meeting. 

Mr. Strong attended the June 20 meeting with his attorneys Charles Cuddy and David Altman. Mr. Cuddy again told the Commission, as he had on June 5 that he believes the SEQRA process was flawed and his client was not given a chance to address issues raised in the FEIS.

“We’ve asked for a meeting with the town planner to revise our plan,” said Mr. Cuddy, adding that they aren’t withdrawing their application, but are revising it and amending it.

Members of the Planning Commission then asked Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza, who was in attendance, what they should do next.

She said she can’t speak for the town Planning Board, but according to the SEQRA process, the applicant would have to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement with the details of their new plan.

“We’re too far into this application as far as SEQRA,” she said, adding that the town can’t withdraw the application because the applicant hasn’t withdrawn it.

“Generally, that is the process, and it happens a lot,” concurred the Planning Commission’s counsel, Jackie Gross.

The Southold Town Planning Board next meets on Monday, July 8 at 6 p.m., at which time it can issue a findings statement and a final determination on the project.

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

Members of the Planning Commission, a volunteer board comprised of 15 representatives with land use experience from each of Suffolk’s towns and from villages, seemed perturbed to not have the matter settled at the special meeting, at which the Strong’s application was the only item on the agenda.

“If we go through a second hearing, it would be a waste of resources,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Michael Kaufman.

“Why, today, all of a sudden, did they call the town?” queried Planning Commission Member Lisa Perry.

“I’m disappointed the applicant chose to wait ‘till this morning to reach out to the town. We held this special meeting,” said Planning Commission Chair Jennifer Casey. “This is challenging to all the members here.” 

Mr. Strong also asked the Commission to change its staff report’s conclusion that the yacht storage is not a water-dependent use.

“It is beyond me how they can say it is not a water-dependent use,” he said. “It is 100 percent water dependent.”

“We’re marina people. We want to keep it as a shipyard,” he said, adding that, while half of the property is zoned for marine use, the other half of the property is zoned for residential use, and could be the site of housing lots. 

“We prefer not to succumb to housing development pressures, but if we’re put in a box, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

Planning Commission staff had recommended denial of the application primarily based on two factors — the traffic and noise generated by an estimated 4,500 loads of sand being trucked away from the excavation site and the “significant slope disturbance and tree removal” there, and on “significant land alterations and development in an area that is vulnerable to storm surge flooding.” Environmentalists had also raised concerns throughout the SEQRA process about the impact on undisturbed habitat on the site, which is adjacent to Southold Town’s nine-acre Mill Road Preserve.

But some members of the Planning Commission, which is generally more pro-development than East End land use boards, weren’t happy with their staff’s case for denial.

“I don’t believe this body should be considering the ‘what if’ of a storm, or if a construction guy is not doing it the right way,” said Commission member Kevin Gershowitz, one of four members who voted against denying the application. He added that he’s unswayed by the argument that the truck trips would be a strain on local roads.

“It sounds like the Town of Southold has to reinvest in infrastructure of roads,” he said, adding that he believes the board’s denial is akin to saying workers can’t reconstruct the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. “I think everyone is not paying attention to the pace of construction on the East End…. A house foundation is a 1,000 yard excavation. That’s just part of life.”

“With building bridges — there’s no way around that. That impact stinks, but that’s part of development. That’s part of moving forward,” he added. “Our purview is ‘is it good for the region.’ It is.”

“They’re storing boats…. so it floods? They’re storing boats,” he said of the storm surge impacts, adding that the buildings will be above the FEMA floodplain height of 8 feet above sea level. “That’s the developer’s issue, not ours. It’s above the flood plain.”

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Michael Kaufman said he had batted around what to do with the application several times with the Southold Town representative on the Commission, real estate agent Tom McCarthy.

“It would support the marine industry, and there’s been a lot of loss of this industry on Long Island, particularly in Nassau,” he said, singling out the Village of Freeport as an area where marine businesses have been replaced by homes. He added that Greenport Village, on the North Fork, recently put in place a development moratorium in its waterfront districts while it revamped its village code to support marine uses.

“The job creation is kind of limited — 11 jobs — but nowadays, you can’t turn your nose up at that,” he added. “The mere abutment to public lands is not necessarily fatal to a project. It may be extremely distasteful, but it’s not illegal or fatal. That’s your right if you own a property and it’s properly zoned.”

But, Mr. Kaufman said, “On Long Island, we don’t do unrestricted excavation anymore…. We don’t do what they call terraforming anymore. Inconvenient topography can be a limiting factor. We don’t blow out hillsides anymore.”

He added that, as someone who had worked in the sand transport business and likely ruined several local roads in his hometown, “I’m not sure the local roads can handle the bearing weight of trucks coming down.”

He added that he was unconvinced by arguments that Strong’s should have been able to respond to the FEIS.

“The FEIS and the final findings statements are generally created by the municipality, and the municipality has an unfettered right to say whether it likes the DEIS or not,” he said, referring to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by Strong’s that was released last year.

John Condzella, who represents Riverhead on the Commission, said he “definitely cannot support the project,” adding that the “excessive volume of trucks will have a significant impact on the community.”

“As it sits right now, the negative environmental impact is staggering,” he said, adding that the potential impact on Mattituck Creek is exactly why the Planning Commission is involved. “This is definitely in our purview…. If there was no excavation, we would not be having this conversation right now.”

Commission member Daniel Flynn, who represents the Town of Southampton, pointed out the loss of 600 trees on the property, though 200 new trees are proposed to be planted.

“The North Fork — everyone goes there for the nature, for the pickings, pumpkins. The North Fork Is the last holdout,” he said. “That’s important for this conversation.”

“We have to acknowledge that the trees are coming down regardless,” countered Mr. Gershowitz. “I agree about the pumpkin picking and all that, but that’s not happening on this land.”

Louise Harrison of Save the Sound (center) asks Southold Planning Commissioner Tom McCarthy to explain his position on the application on the steps of the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge.

“The property is going to be developed for something. The property does have rights…. that go to the owner,” he added. “Every time we convert marine into residential, we loose jobs.”

Commissioner Tom McCarthy, the Southold representative, said he was torn about whether to support the project, before ultimately voting to deny, but he asked that the staff report be amended to state that the proposal is a water-dependent use.

He quipped that traffic caused by pumpkin picking in Riverhead is also a problem for Southold residents trying to return home from Riverhead and pointed out that Strong’s has partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension to raise hard clams in a grow-out station known as a FLUPSY on its docks.

“I believe the applicant wants to make sure nothing there affects the health of the creek,” he said, adding that Strong’s Water Club, another of the Strong’s family of marinas further inland on the same body of water, would be negatively impacted if the excavation of the hillside damaged the creek. “They’ve demonstrated over the years that the health of that inlet is important to them.”

He added that he’s “glad to hear there’s going to be some correspondence back and forth with the town” on modifications to the application.

Mr. Strong and his attorneys declined to comment more specifically about the scaled-back proposal they plan to bring to the town.

Environmentalists who were in attendance at the special meeting seemed confounded by the Planning Commission’s process, but pleased with the overall result.

“We are in agreement with the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s vote of “disapproval” of the site plan,” said Group for the East End Director of Conservation Advocacy Jennifer Hartnagel. “It accurately reflects both the findings of the Town of Southold’s Final Environmental Impact Statement as well as the Planning Commission’s own staff report, both of which illustrated that several large environmental impacts related to the project’s construction and development components simply cannot be mitigated. The magnitude of this proposal proved to be highly inconsistent with both local and regional  planning objectives for the town’s fragile coastal environment, and the project area’s well-established community character.” 

“I was surprised by the reticence of the majority of attending commissioners as well by the insistence by one that environmental impacts caused by construction should never be considered in the commission’s decision making because he considers those impacts ‘temporary,'” said Save The Sound Long Island Natural Areas Manager Louise Harrison. ”Also, the commissioner from Southold certainly appeared to me he was advocating the approval of the project at the beginning of the meeting and apparently switched after a break.” 

Toward the end of the Planning Commission meeting, Mr. Strong asked to address the board, but was told that was not proper at that time, but the board could call a break, during which Mr. Strong and his attorneys met with County Planning Director Joseph Sanzano in the hallway.

“Perhaps most surprising was the developer announcing he wished to change his project,” added Ms. Harrison. “Over a year has passed since Southold’s Planning Board held public hearings on the site plan application. A month and five days after the second of two hearings, the public comment period closed. The planning board’s staff and consultant then reviewed about 1,800 addressable comments and prepared a Final Environmental Impact Statement, which has been accepted by the board. All the while, the developer could have approached the town to modify his project in response to the adverse impacts that planning staff, scientists, environmental experts, and the public highlighted.”

“It’s perplexing he would wait until the last possible moment before the County Planning Commission’s deliberations,” she added. “In fact, at least one of the commissioners stated aloud he was wondering if the commission was simply wasting its time holding the special meeting to review this application.”

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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

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