A controversial proposal to build an East Quogue golf course community in the pine barrens cleared a regulatory hurdle Wednesday after the Central Pine Barrens Commission signed off on the project.
Arizona-based developer Discovery Land Company, which operates luxury resort communities all over the world, is proposing a 118-unit community and golf course in East Quogue known as Lewis Road PRD. Environmentalists have said the project, once called "The Hills," is not appropriate for the environmentally sensitive pine barrens. Supporters contend the plan would bring jobs and that the seasonal units would ease the property tax burden.
The commission voted 3-1 that the proposal meets the standards for development in the pine barrens. The project will still need various state, Suffolk County and Southampton Town approvals to move forward.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Suffolk County director of sustainability and chief recovery officer Dorian Dale all voted in favor of it.
Schneiderman said his first preference is to preserve the nearly 600-acre parcel but that the application met the commission’s rules following several revisions.
"At the end of the day it met the standards and guidelines," Schneiderman said, noting that the proposal would preserve 400 of those acres. "To say no, to me would be intellectually dishonest."
Environmentalists blasted Wednesday’s decision, contending it violates the state Pine Barrens Protection Act.
"You couldn’t find a child in grade school that didn’t know that you should not build in the pine barrens," said Richard Amper, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine cast the lone dissenting vote, citing several concerns, including that it would violate the comprehensive land use plan intended to protect the pine barrens from overdevelopment. He also expressed frustration at the number of changes made to the application.
"Every time we got close to a vote, they [the developers] changed it, and then they changed it again," Romaine said. "It is going to threaten nitrogen pollution of the bays. I believe that the layout of the property promotes fragmented open space."
The fifth commission seat held by a representative of the state is vacant, as former commission member and state Department of Environmental Conservation Long Island director Carrie Meek Gallagher was promoted last month to be the DEC’s executive deputy commissioner.
Discovery representatives said the project’s treatment plant would remove about 80% of the nitrogen from residences in the proposed community and would make the project the first nitrogen-negative development on Long Island.
"We are excited to get our project started so that we can begin to clean up Weesuck Creek and Shinnecock Bay," Discovery Land partner Ed Divita said in a statement.
With Carl MacGowan