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Patchogue Village Board denies permit for Cornerstone development

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The Cornerstone apartment proposal in Patchogue faced its greatest challenge through its two-and-a-half-year saga Monday night.

The Patchogue Village Board of Trustees voted unanimously to deny the issuance of a special use permit to the complex’s developer, Terwilliger & Bartone Properties, to build a residential building within the village’s “E” industrial zone. What this means for the village, the developer and the riverside property going forward is not clear.

For the uninitiated, the plans were to build a multi-level, 50-unit luxury apartment complex along Patchogue River, just north of Oar Steak & Seafood Grille, filled with a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom residences. The plans also called for clubhouse, marina and two-story parking structure.

“It’s a tough decision for all,” Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri said in a telephone interview following Monday evening’s vote. “For the developer, the property owner in particular, and for this board to make that decision on something like this.”

The Village Board’s vote follows the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s disapproval of the special use permit. The county has jurisdiction because the proposed development falls within 500 feet of the Patchogue River.

“The Suffolk County Planning Commission didn’t give the board any choice but to deny the application,” Pontieri said. “The elements they put into it kind of boxed us into a corner.”

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Village Attorney Brian Egan explained the various routes Monday night’s Village Board’s vote could go. He said the board could overrule the county’s disapproval of the special use permit with a supermajority vote, or else end the years-long Cornerstone proposal as it stands.

“If the board declines to issue the special permit, then the project is essentially over,” Egan said.

Pontieri confirmed that the Cornerstone project — as it is currently proposed — is indeed over. But the developer, he said, can propose a “less intense residential use,” or another plan entirely. “There are things that can be done.”

Anthony Bartone, managing partner at Terwilliger & Bartone Properties, declined GreaterPatchogue‘s request for comment following Monday night’s vote.

Public opposition

The apartment complex has been long contested by members of the public. This past May, about 50 protesters gathered outside Village Hall during a Village Board meeting which saw representatives of the developer before the board seeking the permit.

Residents who oppose the project have said its towering presence over the community is undesirable in the residential area, it will cause traffic and parking issues and is environmentally unconscious, decrying a development of such a scale along the Patchogue River and voicing concerns of more flooding.

Representatives for Terwilliger & Bartone, in village and county meetings, countered that the design of the project accounted for such environmental concerns. Their plans called for green spaces and permeable pavers, which they said was a plan to mitigate flooding in an undeveloped area where one does not exist.

The Cornerstone proposal also divided Patchogue’s Planning Board, with only four members of the seven-person body signing a recommendation for approval back in April.

Suffolk County’s disapproval

The commission’s staff report, dated June 9, outlined five areas of concern: environmental protection, energy efficiency, economic development, equity and sustainability, housing diversity and transportation and public safety.

The report addresses many concerns Patchogue residents raised and recommends disapproval of the permit because the project is “not in character with the predominant building type and density of the neighborhood” and falls within a 100 year FEMA FIRM flood zone.

Issuing the special use permit, according to the staff report and various commission members throughout the July 7 meeting to adopt it, would set a precedent for more riverfront development in the village or along the Great South Bay.

10 members of the 15-seat commission voted to adopt the staff report. There was a sole “no” vote, one recusal and three vacancies.

Following the rollcall vote, John Finn, the sole commission member to vote “no,” said “by me voting ‘no,’ doesn’t mean I approve the project.” GreaterPatchogue reached out to Finn for comment.

After adopting the staff report on July 7, the commission sent the village its resolution of disapproval. The village received it July 14.

Sandy’s shadow

The threat of rising sea levels and the growing severity of hurricanes, both induced by climate change, were a concern for the Patchogue Planning Commission staff.

The report considers the waterfront apartment building “inconsistent with regional policy for floodplain management” and its development “not consistent with good planning practice and is not consistent with critical county-wide priorities.”

“The proposed use of the site and the arrangement and density of the structure will cause a concentration of population on site that may pose hazards to life, limb or property of the occupants or emergency service providers because of the effects of more severe storms, more frequent flood, erosion or panic,” the staff report reads.

After Andrew Freleng, the chief planner, read much of the staff report into the record for the July 7 county meeting, Hurricane Sandy became a hot topic amongst the board members.

Jennifer Casey, chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, said her time on the Suffolk County Legislature Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force made her cognisant of the dangers of developing within flood zones. “That’s one of the big challenged that Long Island faces and developers face,” Casey said in a telephone interview. “Climate change is a real big problem and building on the coast is an issue.”

The task force’s report, issued in Oct 2019, addresses the dangers of waterfront development. “Appropriate departments of Suffolk County and local municipalities should discourage further development in floodplains, marsh migration pathways and other areas that put people in harm’s way and exacerbate flooding problems. Enabling more building in floodplains and vulnerable coastal areas perpetuates the past problems and is a lost opportunity to secure a safer future.”

The memory of Hurricane Sandy lingers in Long Islanders’ memories, but Casey said she is concerned with future storms. She said the planning commission has been working on climate change-conscious guidance for developers and local municipalities over the past year-and-a-half, which she expects to be released in the next month or so.

“There’s gonna be other weather events, and tide issues and water rising,” she said. “That’s going to affect how we live and how we build and how we plan on Long Island.”

Top: Renderings of the projected Cornerstone project in Patchogue Village (courtesy).