At a June 21 press conference, a group of Nassau County-based environmental and civic groups announced that they have filed suit against the Town of Oyster Bay board for approving a major development project in the state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Area without considering the collective impacts of this and other projects on drinking water.
The lawsuit, which was officially filed on June 1 in State Supreme Court in Mineola, seeks to reverse the change of zone and special use permit granted to Woodbury Partners for the construction of a 144-suite extended stay hotel on Jericho Turnpike, east of the Fox Hollow Inn Catering Hall. The suit was brought by the Society to Preserve Underhill and the Syosset Woodbury Road, East Norwich and Oakwood Princeton Park Civic Associations.
"While no project in and of itself is going to destroy our drinking water in the state designated special groundwater protection area, the cumulative impact of development in the Town of Oyster Bay as well as the special ground water protection area will inevitably result in the destruction of the pure drinking water supply that we have now," stated Joseph Lorintz, the attorney representing the groups who have brought the law suit, at the press conference.
"This lawsuit is grossly inaccurate and legally deficient," said Town Supervisor John Venditto. "It misrepresents both fact and law, is fraught with errors and ignores the town's significant environmental review process. The woefully inadequate evidence supporting their claim raises serious questions about the motivation of the petitioners. The Town is vigorously opposing this groundless lawsuit and seeking to have it dismissed.:
The legal action claims that the town violated state environmental law by considering only the hotel project individually without assessing the cumulative impacts of the project in combination with nine other projects in the area designated by the state for drinking water protection.
"We believe that it is time for the town board to recognize that there are serious consequences to not taking a good hard look at all of the projects within the Town of Oyster Bay," said Lorintz. "This lawsuit is a suit which we are hoping will be recognized as an effort to cease the assault on our drinking water. It should not come as a surprise to the town that many civic and environmental groups feel this way."
The suit identifies the proposal to build a 270-unit housing project on the 81-acre Underhill Property in Jericho and the development of other projects in excess of 150 acres. The proposed development of some 200 acres at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and the 148-acre Stevens Estate in Muttontown are also a cause of concern for the groups.
"...Each proposed project in the Town is carefully scrutinized," said Venditto. "Some are denied and, in many instances, are scaled down as a result of our vigorous review process. Each of these processes contains elements of citizen review and comment, which help shape the Town Board's ultimate decision."
During the press conference, environmentalists and civic members expressed the desire for the Town of Oyster Bay and all of the other municipalities to pool their resources and consider what development is occurring outside of their own jurisdictions as well as within the Special Groundwater Protection area. "[We need a master plan] that considers everything that is currently proposed and reasonably anticipated and then determines how much of that can proceed without compromising something as basic as drinking water," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Bonnie Eisler has held several private forums with civic association leaders to discuss the idea of developing a master plan.
According to Eisler, a master plan would incorporate 'smart growth' into the town's future development. "While other townships across Long Island are embracing smart growth concepts, the residents of Oyster Bay are left to the mercy of whatever project may be proposed for development," she said. "There is no one looking at the big picture; we have unplanned, piecemeal development throughout the Town."
She noted that congested traffic conditions, development on environmentally sensitive land and constant zoning challenges are the result of the town's 50-year old zoning codes. She stated that she will continue to meet with civic leaders and hopes to present a resolution to the town board establishing a master plan by the end of the summer.
"[A master Plan] is something that we really agree with and we feel it is time to get into the 21st century as far as land planning especially since there has been so much development in the Town of Oyster Bay over the last decade," said Lorintz. "Until the Town of Oyster Bay can develop an appropriate master plan we will be calling for a moratorium."