East End Environmental Groups Call On Pine Barrens Commission To Review East Quogue Golf Course Proposal

East End environmental groups are calling upon the State Pine Barrens Commission to review a proposed luxury golf course resort in East Quogue to determine if the project conforms with the New York State Pine Barrens Act.

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an advocacy group, is leading the charge, with support from Bob DeLuca, who has served as president and CEO of the Group for the East End since 1992. 

The Pine Barrens Act was enacted by the state in 1993 with the intent to preserve the environmentally sensitive Central Pine Barrens, according to Mr. DeLuca. 

He added that the applicant, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, is required by state law to adhere to the restrictions and guidelines set forth in the act.

Since 2015, the Pine Barrens Commission has sent 10 letters to Discovery Land seeking detailed information about several aspects of the project but has not yet received a single documented response, the environmentalists said.

Now, Mr. Amper and Mr. DeLuca are asking that the Pine Barrens Commission be more aggressive in obtaining the information requested.

Pointing to Article 57 of the Long Island Pine Barrens Maritime Reserve Act, Mr. Amper argued that any developer looking to build in “critical resource areas” or “developments of regional significance” within the pine barrens region must first seek approval from the Pine Barrens Commission. 

Critical resource areas are defined as any land area having significant environmental features, whereas developments of regional significance are classified as projects expected to have a significant environmental impact.

Building is allowed within the critical resource area of the pine barrens, as well as in the compatible growth area—however, there are strict guidelines that must be adhered to.

According to documents provided by Mr. Amper, the developer’s project will encompass approximately 451 acres in the pine barrens compatible growth area.

The Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan—which was put in place to enforce the Pine Barrens Act—provides a breakdown for clearing limits based on the zoning and square footage of a proposed project. For example, if a lot is 10,000 square feet or less, the maximum site clearance—including roads, drainage and other improvements—is 90 percent of the site’s total acreage. For lots greater than 4 acres, developers are allowed to clear only 20 percent of the site, or 25 percent when considering driveway construction and septic systems. 

“In no case shall the total clearance in this category exceed 25 percent,” the plan reads. 

According to Discovery Land’s pre-application, the plan is to develop roughly 200 acres of the 591-acre parcel—a total of nearly 33 percent, Mr. Amper said. 

“I have some reason to believe that would be a problem,” Mr. DeLuca added last week.

The comprehensive land use plan also limits fertilization to no more than 15 percent of an entire development site. The proposed 78-acre golf course, as well as an additional 11.07 acres of proposed fertilized land, just barely exceeds that limit at 15.07 percent.

Additional concerns include the project’s effect on the pine barrens slope, as well as the impact the development would have on the various endangered plant and wildlife species native to the area.

“That requires the commission to look at the project,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Rather than just sending a letter, you need to require that the applicant formally submit to you to then determine how and if this project complies with the clearing and other restrictions.”

Mr. DeLuca and Mr. Amper planned to attend a scheduled Pine Barrens Commission meeting on Wednesday, March 20, at 2 p.m. at Southampton Town Hall and demand that the commission assert jurisdiction over the project.

“The environmental community has been dealing with this particular project for close to five years, and it is the biggest and baddest one we have ever seen,” Mr. Amper said. “We think that Discovery Land knows that it doesn’t meet state requirements under the Pine Barrens Protection Act, and that’s why they have avoided any review.”

At several Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals meetings—when the project was before the board seeking approval for the golf course as a recreational amenity—Wayne Bruyn, an attorney with Southampton-based O’Shea Marcincuk & Bruyn LLP, who is representing Discovery Land, mentioned that the project is still in its pre-application phase, noting that the minute details of the project were not yet finalized.

In response to that argument, Mr. Amper pointed to two golf course developments—Spring Meadow at Wading River and Tall Grass Village—that were denied by the Pine Barrens Commission based solely on the projects’ pre-applications. 

“If you’re a legitimate builder, you should have no objection to answering those questions,” he said. “These two projects provide precedent for action by the commission on a pre-application.”

The project is currently before the Southampton Town Planning Board, which hired B. Laing Associates as a consultant last month to determine if a supplemental environmental impact statement, or EIS, is needed under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, for a revised version of the applicant’s plan.

After Discovery Land failed to obtain a necessary change of zone, known as a planned development district, or PDD, at the Town Board level last year, it changed several aspects of the project, including the addition of 12 workforce housing units. Additionally, the developer limited the use of the golf course to residents of the subdivision and their non-paying guests only, rather than allowing public membership.

Discovery Land officials repeatedly have said they will not respond to questions on the application by The Press. Ed Divita, a partner with Discovery Land, did not respond to an email on Monday seeking information. Mr. Bruyn did not return phone calls this week.

In a Facebook comment, Jessica Insalaco, a public relations employee of Discovery Land, said that the Pine Barrens Commission already commented on the preliminary application, and she noted that “no variances are being sought” from the commission. She did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Amper called Ms. Insalaco’s statement “completely false,” referring again to the 10 letters that were sent to Discovery Land seeking clarification on the project’s adherence to the law.

“We believe that the commission should take action in order to prevent future misrepresentations of their position from occurring,” he said. 

John Pavacic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Commission, did not immediately return phone calls on Monday. Commission Chairwoman Carrie Meek Gallagher referred all questions to Mr. Pavacic.

By Valerie Gordon, Southampton Press

Check out the original publication of this article here