Condo Developers Must Conduct Full-Scale Environmental Study

The plan for condos in North Sea must undergo a comprehensive environmental review, officials said.

Developers of a proposed 120-unit condominium complex in North Sea were directed to undertake a comprehensive environmental analysis of potential impacts their project might have following a Southampton Town Planning Board discussion on February 11.

Listing an array of potential impacts across a variety of areas — from water quality to traffic to community character — the board voted, as part of its examination through the State Environmental Quality Review Act, to send developer Engel Berman, a Long Island based real estate firm that’s developed communities such as Bristol Assisted Living, off to conduct the analysis in the form of an environmental impact statement, or EIS.

Far from a mere statement, an EIS is generally a massive tome that considers every possible impact a project may have. It can take months to complete and costs tens of thousands of dollars.

During a discussion of the proposal last fall, Chic Voorhis of the land use and planning firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis said his clients expect to undertake a full environmental review, including a traffic study, fiscal and economic assessment, land use, zoning, and comprehensive plan analysis, natural resources investigation as well as a look at the project’s impact on the community character, facilities and services. He was accepting of the board’s determination last week.

In its presubmission report, the Planning Board made note of potential “moderate to large” impacts on land, surface water, groundwater, air quality aesthetic resources, transportation, energy, noise, odors, lighting, human health, consistency with community plans and consistency with community character.

The Planning Board’s SEQRA determination comes on the heels of two earlier outings that saw considerable community opposition. In general, neighbors felt that the project was too extensive in scale for the area — located off Majors Path in North Sea — and that traffic, which has already increased over the years, would reach untenable proportions. Noise and the impact on infrastructure and services would be extensive, residents argued.

During a November presubmission conference, area residents tarred the plan, calling it outrageous, unprecedented, a monstrosity, appalling and shocking. A special hearing in December drew more participants than the Zoom teleconference could accommodate. With the exception of agents for the applicant, everyone who spoke voiced opposition.

Filed in 2019, the plan — alternatively titled Thomas R. Stachecki Living Trust and 1205 Majors Path — looks to construct the condo units in 22 buildings. The complex would also include a two-story clubhouse, tennis and pickleball courts and a swimming pool. Each building would house two or three units; all 22 would be located on the northern portion of the site. Internal roadways and driveways would be built for each unit and 120 garages are planned, plus an additional 49 parking spaces. The wastewater treatment plant would be located on the southernmost portion of the site. Approximately 30 percent of the acreage would be preserved as open space.

With the SEQRA determination in hand, the ball is in the applicant’s court to craft what’s known as a “scoping” document. It will outline items that will be analyzed in the draft EIS.

The applicant needs approval from the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to change the 20-acre site from its current pre-existing, nonconforming zoning designation as a former town dump to a multifamily use, which would also be nonconforming. That would be required for the proposal to move from “presubmission” status to site plan. The ZBA has the power to allow property owners to change their zoning designation from one nonconformng use to another. Members need only determine the new use would be more beneficial to the community than the current one is.

That’s the argument they make in every situation, Planning Board member Dennis Finnerty opined when he and his colleagues discussed a proposal floated by members of the Town Board to remove the authority to change a property from one nonconforming use to another from the ZBA and give it to the Town Board. Planners noted they felt the current regulation was too vague. Board members preferred a “higher bar” of applying use standards to the applications, Planning Board Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro made clear.

Planners also made the point that changes of uses that are similarly classified could stay with the ZBA. “Night club to 200 houses, that’s a different story,” Janice Scherer, the town’s planning and development administrator, clarified.

The group also discussed thresholds for when applications could go to the zoning board and when they might go to the Town Board. Like uses could be approved by the zoning board while big changes would be reviewed by the elected Town Board.

During discussion of the condo plan, it was as yet unclear whether the project would be subject to any changes to the law, or whether as an active application, it would be exempt or grandfathered.