In a letter submitted to the East Hampton Town Planning Board, and sent to various local newspapers, the environmental group The East Hampton Conservators announced it is staunchly opposed to David Reiner’s plans to re-develop the Sag Harbor Cottages, an aging motel on Route 114, that has been in front of the planning board for review for the last three years.
The letter was received a day before the planning board’s scheduled public hearing of the project, Wednesday, September 1, which was just one issue Reiner’s attorney Jon Tarbet took with the submission.
The Sag Harbor Cottages proposal aims to demolish the existing motel, formerly known as the Barcelona Inn, and replace it with 12 individual cottages, an open pavilion, management office, pool with cabana lounge area, pool house and storage sheds. Situated on a six-acre parcel, the property is surrounded by state and county preserves.
Reiner’s application does not require any variances from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and the new development, unlike the current motel, will be set back from Route 114 and screened with native trees and shrubs.
The Conservators called the property “a unique and environmentally sensitive parcel,” noting it is located in the South Fork Pine Barrens and is also in the Suffolk County Pine Barrens, the South Fork Special Groundwater Protection Area and Harbor Protection Overlay District.
The organization represents “a committed group of citizens dedicated to protecting the environment and our pure drinking water along with controlling development and preserving open space, and said it was concerned with the amount of clearing proposed on the parcel.
“The East Hampton Conservators feels strongly that a site plan with less clearing is possible and preferable for the health of the environment and extensive wetlands,” reads their letter.
The organization acknowledged Reiner’s proposal to re-vegetate a large section of property that has already been cleared, but said new clearing proposed to accommodate the project is in “the only White Pine Forest on Long Island.”
“The amount of new clearing is unacceptable and can be remedied with careful and thoughtful planning by the applicant and planning department,” stated the Conservators. “The applicant should state how the clearing of pristine sections of the property would affect wildlife and fish habitats as well as the effects on the aquifer, wetlands on this property and the surrounding New York owned properties and Little Northwest Creek.”
They add that “of grave concern” was that the application was allowed to have a two-foot separation for the septic system when properties in the Harbor Protection Overlay District are mandated to have a four-foot separation.
The Conservators went on to attack planning board member Reed Jones, who was quoted in The East Hampton Star as stating the wetlands on the property were “a football field away.”
“Our fear is that this board member is uninformed and does not really understand how water flows or at what rates,” states the Conservators. “Further, we’re concerned that this implies that the board member cannot ask appropriate questions to protect the environment.”
Lastly the question the issue that has been at the forefront of the Sag Harbor Cottages application – whether a pre-existing, non-conforming use like the motel is allowed to expand its activity under that use. They ask the planning board to ask the town board to consider revising the town code, and ask the proposal be subject to environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The Conservators’ letter was the only submission presented at the public hearing, with no other residents objecting to the project in front of the board.
Tarbet took issue with a number of “clear inaccuracies” presented by the Conservators in their letter, and questioned whether planning board member Sylvia Overby – a fierce critic of the project – had a hand in the letter’s drafting.
Overby, along with planning board chairman Bob Schaeffer, was an officer with the Conservators, but resigned with Schaeffer after Republicans questioned whether they could remain impartial members of the planning board while serving an organization with ties to the Democratic Party.
Tarbet did not receive an answer and was chastised by board members who reminded him a planning board member was not required to answer his question.
“I think a lot of people are well aware of your relationship,” said Tarbet.
Tarbet went on to rip apart the Conservator’s claims about Reiner’s project, first noting that the town’s own natural resources director has already determined the area to be cleared is not in fact a white pine forest.
“The re-vegetation will be an environmental benefit,” said Tarbet.
He added that while the Conservators questioned his two-foot septic separation, it was clear they did not understand that an upgraded septic system did not need to meet the four-foot requirement. Tarbet noted the septic system is 500 horizontal feet from the wetlands, and said the upgrade will be a benefit, not a drawback.
Addressing the expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use, Tarbet said that “while it may not be accepted by everyone” two separate town building inspectors, three town attorneys and two planning board attorneys have all agreed that the motel can relocate to another portion of the property.
“We are allowed 17,000 square-feet of coverage and we are proposing just 7,000 square-feet – just three percent of the property,” said Tarbet, adding presently the parcel has been cleared significantly more than it will be once it is re-vegetated.
“The property will be more conforming than it is now,” he said.