The Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday ruled in favor of a developer’s controversial plan to build an 18-hole golf course in East Quogue, a decision critics fear will set a precedent for other large-scale developments to move forward in the town.
The board voted 5-2, with chairman Adam Grossman and member Helene Burgess voting no, declaring that a golf course only available to owners in the adjacent subdivision is an “accessory” to the subdivision and can be built without a zoning variance. The board’s decision references other private residences in the town with golf holes and greens as well as hundreds of golf courses throughout the nation built as a part of residential communities.
“They are so commonplace that Wikipedia offers the defined term ‘golf course community,’ ” board member Cornelius Kelly said while reading a draft of the board’s 16-page decision.
Arizona-based Discovery Land Co. wants to build the golf course and a 118-unit subdivision on 591 acres off Spinney Road in East Quogue, a project once known as The Hills that has drawn attention for its location in the environmentally sensitive pine barrens.
The proposal would cluster the units while keeping 390 acres of open space. Discovery contended it could build the development without a zoning change, saying the golf course should be considered an accessory use, which is permitted under town code.
Discovery attorneys repeatedly have said the golf course should be treated as amenities such as tennis or basketball courts.
Following Thursday’s decision, the developer can file a formal application with the planning board, which in May issued a report outlining questions over whether the golf course would constitute a secondary primary use of the property or an accessory use.
The town’s zoning code does not include a golf course in a list of potential accessory uses, but it does not explicitly prohibit it either.
“When the code is silent on an issue, I believe the ZBA should be erring on the side of what’s best for the town and the community,” said Andrea Spilka, president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition. “They didn’t do that in this case.”
The zoning board in its decision said, though it was sensitive to those views, it could not deny a land permit based on community opposition.
A similar proposal failed to get supermajority approval from the town board in December, prompting the company to file the latest plans two weeks later under the name Lewis Road Planned Residential District. The developer sued the town in April over what it called an “unlawful and unconstitutional denial” of the proposal, the status of which was not immediately clear.
Members of the environmental community have indicated they may mount a legal challenge to the ruling.
“If the ZBA says they can do this, it is open season against the environment by developers in the Town of Southampton,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.