Apr 20, 2018 10:35 AM
As the Southampton Town Planning Board continues to carefully review the hefty application for a proposed luxury golf course resort community in East Quogue, arguments about how the town code should be interpreted continue to take the center stage.
At the crux of the deliberation is a little-used section of the town code that permits the addition of certain recreational amenities, such as tennis courts, in the development of residential neighborhoods.
The developer, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, is arguing that a golf course could be built on the nearly 600-acre property that sits on Spinney Road to be used by the development’s residents as an amenity allowed by zoning—just like a community swimming pool or tennis court.
The proposal, known as the Lewis Road Planned Residential Development, calls for an 18-hole golf course and 118 homes along nearly 600 acres in East Quogue. The project in review is similar to The Hills planned development district, or PDD, proposed by the same developer and voted down by the Town Board in December.
The key difference between the two projects lies in the review process. The former PDD proposal gave the Town Board wiggle room to vote against the project for subjective reasons; the Planning Board, on the other hand, must make its decision solely based on if it meets the requirements of the town code.
As part of the pre-application process for the subdivision, the developer submitted three examples of golf courses built in residential zones on the eastern end of Southampton Town to demonstrate that similar recreational amenities have been built under the same portion of the code.
The largest of the trio of golf courses is nestled behind a 20,000-square-foot house at 939 Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton. The estate, known as Three Ponds Farm, is currently listed with Dana Trotter, an associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty in Bridgehampton.
“It’s a top notch course,” Ms. Trotter said.
She explained that the golf course is certified by the United States Golf Association. Designed by Rees Jones, a golf course architect in New Jersey, the course has 18 holes. It’s set up to play nine holes in one direction, before turning around to play another nine holes in the other direction.
The course also has a two-story clubhouse, which is connected to the main house, and a pro shop about halfway through the course so players can stop and get a drink in the kitchenette or use the bathroom.
“It’s also 60 acres of develop-able land,” Ms. Trotter said of her listing. “You can’t really find that in the Hamptons anymore.”
Discovery Land also points to a smaller course in its application on the Cow Neck peninsula in North Sea. While that course has only nine holes, its story rings similar to the East Quogue proposal: both target a large and environmentally sensitive swath of land in a residential zone.
Discovery Land’s property is centered in the pine barrens. Similarly, Cow Neck is made up of tidal and freshwater wetlands, woodlands, agricultural and equestrian lands, uplands and meadows. Nearly two decades ago, Louis Bacon—a Wall Street billionaire, the owner of Robins Island and a noted conservationist—donated a conservation easement for the 540-acre Cow Neck peninsula to the Peconic Land Trust. In the trade-off, he gave up many development rights for the North Sea property—but the right to build golf holes on it wasn’t one of them.
Some clearing began for the golf course in 2015.
John v.H Halsey, founder of the Peconic Land Trust, explained in an email this week that the property allows for up to nine holes of golf under the terms of the easement—although he stressed that most of the property is protected from residential development. The easement also allows recreational and agricultural uses on a portion of the property. “We monitor the property annually, and the current uses are in compliance with the terms of the easement,” Mr. Halsey said.
The third and final golf course featured in the pre-application in front of the Planning Board is behind a home at 1080 Meadow Lane in Southampton Village. The 4.6 acre property, owned by the electronic dance music mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman, includes a three hole golf course in a residential zone.
While the examples of other golf courses are in residential zones—like Discovery Land’s proposal, some environmentalists are still arguing that it does not conform to code.
Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End and a longtime opponent of the project, pointed to some differences between the golf course examples provided and the applicant’s proposal.
“In each case, I think what’s important here is that none have a subdivision attached,” Mr. DeLuca said.
Mr. DeLuca said that the subdivision and the golf course are two intensive uses of the property—and the developer should only be able to pick one.
“The golf club that they’re building can very nicely stand on its own as a primary use,” Mr. DeLuca said. “And they can’t have another primary use.”
The application has a second alternative to the golf course resort: a 137-unit subdivision with various amenities—but no golf course. The developer has stressed that the golf course option is its preference.
And Mark Hissey, a vice president of Discovery Land Company, has repeatedly stated that his company wants the golf course to be installed, much like its other resort communities scattered across the world. He could not be reached for comment this week.
He stood strong with that statement during the long years when he was pitching The Hills in front of the Town Board. That proposal requested a change of zone to build 118 single family homes and an 18-hole golf course on the same property, though that proposal was ultimately shot down by the Town Board.
The special change of zone required supermajority support of the Town Board, or votes from at least four of the five Town Board members. The developer failed to get the necessary votes; Councilman John Bouvier and Councilwoman Julie Lofstad voted against it, citing environmental concerns.
Now, with the project in front of the Planning Board, Mr. Hissey and his colleagues at Discovery Land Company are continuing to spread the same message: a golf resort will be built.