Village of Southampton

The Long Island Pine Barrens Maritime Reserve Act, Environmental Conservation Law, Article 57 (the “Act”), was adopted in 1993 for the purpose of protecting approximately 102,500 acres of the Long Island Pine Barrens located within the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton.  The Act defines the boundaries of the Central Pine Barrens and divides it into two geographic areas, one a 55,000 acre Core Preservation Area (“CPA”), where development is generally prohibited, and the other a 47,500 acre area designated as the Compatible Growth Area (“CGA”), where development is permitted, but only in compliance with certain standards and guidelines designed to preserve the ecology and hydrology of the Central Pine Barrens.

The Act also mandated the creation and implementation of the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan (the “Plan”), and created the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission (the “Commission”).  The Commission oversees the implementation of the Plan and is charged with joint land use review, regulation, permitting, and enforcement along with local municipalities, as well as the operation of a transferable development rights and conservation easement program.  See, prior blog posts, Pine Barren Credits – There’s Money In Those Trees and Town of Babylon Imposes Moratorium on Use of Pine Barrens Credits to Increase Development Density

Among the Commission’s responsibilities is the review of applications for large-scale development that meets the threshold constituting a Development of Regional Significance.  Pursuant to the Plan, the following developments are defined as Developments of Regional Significance:

  • A commercial, industrial or office development project exceeding 300,000 square feet of gross floor area, or an addition to an existing commercial, industrial or office development where the addition is 100,000 square feet or more and that addition causes the total square footage to exceed 300,000 square feet.
  • A multifamily residential development project consisting of three hundred (300) or more units.
  • A single family, detached residential development project consisting of two hundred (200) or more units.
  • A development project resulting in a traffic impact which would reduce service by two (2) levels below existing conditions or to a level of service of D or below.

In order for the Commission to approve a Development of Regional Significance, the development must comply with all of the standards and guidelines set forth in Volume 1, Chapter 5, of the Plan.  The standards and guidelines are intended to minimize certain areas of environmental concern, such as nitrate and nitrogen discharge, wellhead protection, protection of wetlands and surface waters, stormwater runoff and recharge, and preservation of natural vegetation and plant habitat.  Developments that do not comply with the standards and guidelines may apply to the Commission for a hardship waiver, which can only be granted upon a showing of an extraordinary hardship or compelling public need.

Applications for Developments of Regional Significance are made to the Commission upon submission of a Transmittal Letter, Owners Affidavit, General Project Data Sheet and Standards and Guidelines for Land Use.  The application must also be accompanied by copies of prior approvals, the final approved map or site plan, other maps or data that document and support the information presented, an Environmental Assessment Form or Findings Statement and supporting documentation necessary to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and a Suffolk County Planning Commission determination (if applicable).

Within 60 days of the submission of a complete application, the Commission will hold a public hearing on the application, at which time the applicant and members of the public are provided an opportunity to comment on the development proposal.  The Commission must render a decision within 120 days after declaring an application complete, unless the time is extended by mutual agreement, otherwise the proposal is deemed approved by the Commission.

Developers that propose large-scale developments on lands within the Central Pine Barrens are wise to evaluate whether their proposals constitute Developments of Regional Significance early in the process because the Commission’s discretionary review process creates additional entitlement risk and can result in a longer timeline for securing project approval.

In a decision dated October 30, 2018, Supreme Court Judge Joseph Pastoressa remanded a decision made by the Southampton Village Architectural and Historic Board (BARHP) for further consideration. Manger et al. v. Board of Architectural Review and Historic Review of the Village of Southampton.

 The property owner in Manger applied to the BARHP for a certificate of appropriateness to construct a single family dwelling and accessory structures on two separate lots in the Village of Southampton. The lots are in a Historic District which requires a Certificate of Appropriateness as a condition precedent to issuing a building permit.

During the public hearing process that resulted in an approval of the application, the Board stated that it could not consider the size of the house in its review of the proposed construction. The Board took this position because the house as proposed fully complied with the Zoning Code of the Village of Southampton. That position was supported by Board precedent and a prior decision in Ferrara v. Board of Architectural Review.

Immediate neighbors of the property brought the Article 78 proceeding and argued that scale and size were different measurements and the Board could consider the scale of houses and any corresponding impact on the neighboring properties. Alternatively, the property owner and Village argued that if a house complied with Zoning then the BARHP was powerless to require a reduction in size. Ultimately, Judge Pastoressa rejected that argument and sent the matter back to the Board for re-consideration.

This case highlights the tension between the Zoning Code and the Historic and Landmark Preservation Code. Historically, zoning was enacted to protect light and air between properties. This protection is accomplished through setbacks and the restrictions on the size of a structure. One of the stated considerations of the Historic and Landmark Preservation Law is the impact of new construction on the character of nearby properties.

As held by Judge Pastoressa, the BARHP now may consider the impact of new construction on surrounding properties. But, that consideration still must include an analysis of the new construction under Zoning Code provisions.

Since the Declaration of Purposes of the Zoning Code (§116-1) and the Legislative Findings and Intent (§65-1) in the Historic and Landmark Preservation Law share many common core goals, compliance with the Zoning Code is certainly compelling if not overwhelming evidence that the mass and scale of new construction is appropriate.  So, while the option to reduce the size of a structure is seemingly available to the BAHRP, it must show that the Zoning Code somehow failed to achieve one of its basic goals. There must be significant evidence showing an impact not addressed by the Zoning Code for the BARHP to reduce the size of a structure under that which is allowed by Zoning.

Ultimately, this leaves a potential purchaser of real property in a bind. Any advice by counsel to a purchaser must be given with a caveat that the BAHRP has final say and compliance with the Zoning Code does not guarantee approval.