Does a zoning plan designed to transform an entire community qualify as development?
That question is at the heart of a disagreement between Southampton Town officials and the Pine Barrens Society over the sweeping Riverside Revitalization Action Plan town officials approved in December.
Richard Amper, executive director of the environmental group, said he supports the economic development plan, which is designed to attract developers to one of Long Island’s poorest communities, but says it falls within the state’s definition of development and requires a stringent review by the state’s Pine Barrens Commission.
“Since everybody’s for this, let’s not mess it up by ignoring the water consideration,” Amper said in a December interview. “If it looks like a development and pollutes like a development, it’s a development.”
The Pine Barrens Commission, which oversees development proposals within the 102,500 acres of protected land on eastern Long Island, consists of the town supervisors of Southampton, Riverhead and Brookhaven and appointed representatives of the state and Suffolk County.
The “Riverside Revitalization Action Plan” applied new optional zoning designations on 468 acres of Riverside to allow for denser and taller development that conforms with certain aesthetic guidelines.
Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who championed the plan before leaving office at the end of 2015, said it doesn’t make sense for the commission to review the plan as a whole. Since landowners can choose to opt into the new zoning regulations, she said, it’s too early to know what the results will be.
“How do you approve something that doesn’t exist or isn’t even envisioned or contemplated?” Throne-Holst said Tuesday. “What would the Pine Barrens Commission actually be opining on or legislating on? There’s no answer to that.”
The Pine Barrens Commission would consider individual developments in Riverside as they come up, Throne-Holst said. Amper said the state’s 1993 Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act calls on officials to look at the broad effects of projects in the pine barrens, including rezoning plans that could intensify development.
Southampton’s new supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, who was inaugurated Tuesday, said he would seek legal advice on the question, but saw logic in Amper’s position.
“I’d personally rather that determination be made early in the process, rather than segment it,” Schneiderman said Tuesday. He called the rezoning a “vital project for the region.”
The Pine Barrens Commission’s role is one of several outstanding issues in the Riverside zoning plan that town officials approved Dec. 22. Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns LLC, the town’s master developer for the project, spent two years crafting the zoning with input from residents.
Southampton and Renaissance officials said they must also figure out how to bring sewers to the area before any redevelopment can occur.
Schneiderman said a centralized sewer plant may eventually prove necessary, but a smaller-capacity system could allow development to get off the ground in the meantime.