The developers behind a controversial East Quogue golf community won a legal victory earlier this month in a case filed by critics of the plan who contend it is inappropriate for the environmentally sensitive Pine Barrens.
Environmental groups, East Quogue neighbors and Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) took Southampton Town and Arizona-based Discovery Land Co. to court in 2019 over the town’s preliminary subdivision approval for the project once known as The Hills.
The application now known as Lewis Road PRD calls for 118 seasonal units, 12 workforce units, a clubhouse, pool and, at the center of the controversy, an 18-hole golf course. Critics say the pesticides, herbicides and water use associated with a golf course — which the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals in 2018 decided could be built as an accessory to the residential community — are inappropriate for the Pine Barrens. Supporters said the project will ease the tax burden, create jobs and preserve more than 400 acres. Discovery Land Co. also said the proposal will include management technology to remove nitrogen from groundwater.
On Nov. 4, Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge Carmen Victoria St. George dismissed the environmentalists’ case, ruling the petitioners lacked standing and did not have evidence of specific injury.
"Although laudable, the petitioners’ commitment to environmental causes, especially with respect to petitioners [Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard] Amper and [Group for the East End president Robert] DeLuca, does not serve to confer standing," St. George wrote.
Her decision noted that none of the parties has a private or onsite well that could be affected and that the residents represented lived too far from the property.
A Discovery representative said the court action has held up final planning board approval of the project for two years.
"It is sad that people and organizations with no right to sue go to court anyway," Discovery partner Ed Divita said in a statement issued Wednesday. "These baseless lawsuits have cost our company millions of dollars, deprived the town of tax revenues for the local school district, and delayed very important economic growth for East Quogue and the Town of Southampton."
Discovery still needs to file an amended site plan for the golf course that is based on the plan approved by the Central Pine Barrens Commission earlier this year, according to the town.
Thiele noted in an email Thursday to Newsday that the judge did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit and said that her interpretation of standing was too narrow. DeLuca said his organization was conferring with its attorney and that an appeal is likely.
"We think there is a significant amount of case law that points in the opposite direction," DeLuca said.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case. Town Attorney James Burke noted the courts have asked the town and Discovery to continue settlement discussions in a separate lawsuit filed by the developer after the town denied its application in 2017. He said those talks are continuing.
LEWIS ROAD PRD
Plan calls for 118 seasonal units, 12 workforce units, pool, clubhouse and an 18-hole golf course in East Quogue
Critics took Southampton Town and the developer to court in 2019, alleging the town did not comply with the state Environmental Quality Review Act in granting preliminary subdivision approval
A judge dismissed the case on Nov.4, but environmentalists said an appeal is likely