An Open Book

Even though planned development districts are now outlawed, their ghosts will continue to haunt Southampton Town, most likely for years to come.

Slightly pared down and modified versions of the specialized zoning requests are now popping up with regularity on the Southampton Town Planning Board’s agenda, as developers, frustrated by a lack of approval for their original plans, are now pitching proposals that, they say, are permitted under zoning. The updated plans require approval only from the Planning Board; the Town Board, whose members had to be consulted with every new planned development district, or PDD, are no longer part of the review process.

That means that most people—at least those who don’t religiously attend meetings of the Planning Board—will have no clue that the projects have even been proposed, let alone approved.

An easy way to avoid such unwanted surprises is for the town to upload those applications, as well as all the accompanying and appropriate documentation, such as maps and environmental studies, to the town’s website immediately after an application is filed. As pointed out by Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, in a letter sent to town officials this week, it would be beneficial to all to have such information available at one’s fingertips, for immediate review.

He points out that the town’s decision to post online substantial portions of publically reviewable information pertaining to prior PDDs was “extremely helpful to the general public and fostered a thorough and transparent review” of those applications. Mr. DeLuca also correctly observed that many of the updated proposals now before the Planning Board “remain large and complex projects,” and many are in environmentally sensitive areas.

O

ver the past few months, tweaked versions of two controversial former PDDs—the former Bridgehampton

Gateway, a proposed commercial complex targeting 13 acres in the hamlet, and The Hills at Southampton, a luxury golf resort that had been proposed on almost 600 acres in East Quogue—have been filed with the Town Planning Board. While the updated plans comply with current zoning, that does not mean there’s no longer interest in what happens with these properties.

And it certainly does not mean that the public should be kept in the dark, or forced to file a Freedom of Information Law request with Town Hall, in order to procure information that will help them decide if a proposal is right for their community.

Though smaller in size, the Town of Southold has made such records available to the general public for years, fostering healthy discussion. Southampton Town should similarly provide concerned citizens with public information in a timely, convenient manner.