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The Preserve at Indian Hills

Indian Hills Country Club. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Neil Mehta

The Hauppauge-based Northwind Group is hoping to break ground by March on developing a 55-and-over townhouse community in Fort Salonga named The Preserve at Indian Hills.

After a 4-3 vote by the Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals that allowed for the issue of a special-use permit modification, the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association announced plans to challenge the outcome in court according to FSPOA president John Hayes.

The ZBA Dec. 15 vote permitted the construction of 74 housing units and reconstruction of the clubhouse at Indian Hills Country Club. At the ZBA meeting, members of the FSPOA packed the boardroom with signs reading “Vote No.” Despite members’ objections, the vote ruled in favor of the development.A Dec. 19 letter from FSPOA attorney Karl Huth to the ZBA, posted on the organization’s Facebook page, argued that because the tiebreaking vote was cast by an alternate member of the board, the vote was invalid and requires an additional public hearing.

In a phone interview, Hayes described the decision as an “illegal vote,” adding that the FSPOA “will be filing a lawsuit.” Hayes said that if the ZBA vote is invalid, further approval for the development by the Huntington Planning Board based on the current ZBA vote will also be invalid.

ZBA attorney John Bennett disputed Hayes’ stance in a phone interview. Bennett cited a town code stating that alternate members of the ZBA “shall possess all of the powers and responsibilities” of an unavailable member.

The validity of the vote apart, residents are concerned that the new development will have detrimental environmental and property value consequences.

Hayes said that the northwest portion of the planned development sits on a recognized landslide zone losing several feet of land per year due to erosion. Additionally, the development may worsen water quality in the area.

“The community is vehemently opposed to the current plan,” Hayes said.

Northwind managing member Jim Tsunis highlighted several benefits of the new development in a phone interview. When asked about residents’ worries regarding the development’s environmental impact, Tsunis said his group performed “an environmental impact study that covers all of the concerns” residents have.

The housing development, Tsunis explained, has three major benefits: the preservation of the golf course, the introduction of natural gas to the entire neighborhood and additional tax revenue to the school district.

According to Tsunis, the group has already started sales for the new development, with 19 achieved to date. The suggested starting price for a three-bedroom townhouse in the new community is $1.4 million, according to the Northwind website.

“We’ve sold 50% available for sale already in a very short period of time,” he said.

Tsunis emphasized that all of the existing buyers are from within 10 miles of the new development. “What we’ve done is created a product that’s being bought by residents of the area,” he said. “I believe that’s significant.”

Indian Hills Country Club. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Raymond Janis

The Preserve at Indian Hills, a planned retirement community along the Indian Hills golf course in Fort Salonga, is seeking approvals from two Town of Huntington boards. 

The Preserve is being spearheaded by Jim Tsunis, managing member of Hauppauge-based development firm The Northwind Group. Applications with the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board must be approved before construction can begin. 

“We’re building an extraordinary community on over 150 acres of property,” Tsunis said in a phone interview. “In addition, we’re preserving over 120 acres of the golf course. This is a win-win situation for the residents of Fort Salonga.”

According to Tsunis, 74 townhouse units will be built along with renovation of the clubhouse and construction of a fitness center. Under Huntington code, a golf course cannot be operated within a residential area without a special use permit from the ZBA. With this approval, The Preserve at Indian Hills can legally function as a golf community. 

“Because they are changing the location and the size of the clubhouse in their plans, they are required to come before the zoning board to request a continuation of their use permit to have a golf course on the premises,” ZBA chair Jerry Asher said in a phone interview. 

The application has sparked opposition from some Fort Salonga property owners. The Fort Salonga Property Owners Association is a civic group that formed to resist redevelopment at Indian Hills under the current plan.

“We want to make it clear we are not against development on the golf course,” said FSPOA president John Hayes in a phone interview. “But this plan with 74 homes, plus the expanded golf club, will have a detrimental effect on the community for the short and long terms.”

FSPOA’s objections to the project include its size and scope, proximity to surrounding neighborhoods, the potential for environmental harm and diminishing property values of neighboring homeowners.

“A number of the neighbors got their appraisals and [the existing homes] may, in effect, lose 10% of their values,” Hayes said. “The neighborhood is extremely concerned. We do not understand how they are planning to go ahead with this.”

By keeping the existing golf course intact, Tsunis believes that the project will preserve, rather than disrupt, the natural and historical character of the land and its surrounding area.

“Everyone that lives in the area references Indian Hills Country Club for their location,” he said. “There would be single-family homes twice or three times the size of my townhouses built all over the area if I didn’t preserve the golf course.”

Detractors demand greater initiative by the ZBA in a last-ditch effort to impose greater restrictions on development while the project remains in the planning phase. However, Asher indicates that the ZBA has a narrow purview over this matter.

“The only [jurisdiction] the zoning board has is whether or not we will grant them a use permit to run a golf course,” Asher said. “We don’t have jurisdiction over anything else. The Planning Board has jurisdiction over all of the other things.”

The Planning Board will hold its own public hearing on Feb. 16 without a vote, contrary to recent misreporting that a vote of final approval will be held on that date.

“I’ve read those reports and that’s inaccurate,” said Planning Board chair Paul Ehrlich. “We won’t be making decisions on the 16th. It really is just for the board to hear the comments.”

Andy Rapiejko, a Fort Salonga resident opposing the project, denounces the Planning Board’s decision to hold this hearing without the ZBA first granting the special use permit.

“In many steps, the process isn’t logical,” Rapiejko said. “Why would they have a hearing without a vote? Wouldn’t you want the community to have the information on what the ZBA determines?” 

Aware of the importance of its upcoming decision, the ZBA has brought in
outside help.

“We are hiring [a consulting firm] called H2M to give us some advice on how we ought to resolve the application before us,” Asher said. 

The ZBA is not expected to hold a final vote on the special use application until early April.

Indian Hills Country Club. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Officials in the Town of Huntington have scheduled a special cluster development hearing for Nov. 20 on The Preserve at Indian Hills. The draft environmental impact statement hearing ended Nov. 5, but concerns continue.

The 55-and-over housing development is proposed to be built on the Indian Hills Golf Course in Northport and have 98 town houses, a new fitness center and an expanded clubhouse alongside the existing golf course. 

The special subdivision hearing was scheduled due to the public’s high level of interest in the project. The draft environmental impact hearing was held in September, and typically that would have been the only hearing for the environmental impact report and its subdivision application. The planning board scheduled a separate public hearing in an effort to provide transparency and extend more time for the public to submit comments, according to town officials. 

Other project updates include the town voting to hire an outside consultant for the environmental review process on Oct. 10. Melville-based engineering firm AECOM will be tasked in assisting the planning board in evaluating the environmental impact statement. 

John Hayes, president of the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association, said they are anxious for the next stage in Preserve’s development process. 

“We were glad the town extended the public comment period, the more input we can put in the better,” he said.

The association sent in 180 pages of input to the town planning board.

Critics of the development have pointed to environmental impacts and negative effects on property values, as well as concerns on watershed quality and the surrounding wetlands. 

“Not much has changed [since the last hearing]. It is still overwhelmingly opposed by residents,” Hayes said. “There are pollution and environmental issues from the DEIS [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] that the developers need to understand.”

The president of the association also was concerned about the eroding bluffs near the proposed development. 

Previously, the group asked town officials to place a moratorium on new developments in the Crab Meadow Watershed area, which includes Indian Hills. Others have urged the planning board to complete the Crab Meadow Watershed study before making any conclusions on the project.

“We’re hopeful that the planning board will listen to our concerns,” Hayes said. 

After the preliminary subdivision hearing, there will be a final environmental impact statement hearing and then a final subdivision hearing. The planning board cannot vote on the development until the environmental statement process is complete. The application review period will extend into 2020, according to town officials. 

Indian Hills Country Club. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Town officials released a draft of the long-awaited Crab Meadow Watershed Plan for public review March 23.

The 154-page study was prepared by GEI Consultants, with the goal of developing a community-driven stewardship plan that highlights best practices in the future management of the watershed area. The study focused on evaluating the environmental conditions of roughly six square miles of downward sloping land around the Jerome A. Ambro Memorial Wetland Preserve in Fort Salonga.

“Policies on everything from golf course pesticides to the types of road salt that we use can have an effect on the wetlands,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in a statement. “By adopting a stewardship plan, the town is looking to implement policies in the collective best interests of the environment.”

John Hayes, president of the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association, said his civic’s members have long awaited the results of this study. They believe its results would justify their concerns about development on Indian Hills Country Club, which lays on the border of Huntington and Smithtown.

Developer Jim Tsunis and The Northwind Group have a subdivision application pending before Huntington Planning Board to construct 98 townhouses for seniors age 55 and older, to be named The Preserve at Indian Hills, alongside the existing golf course and expanding the current clubhouse.

The Fort Salonga Property Owners Association has asked town officials to place a moratorium on new developments in the Crab Meadow Watershed area, which includes Indian Hills, until the stewardship plan was completed. They fear the addition of 98 homes will be devastating to the local wetlands.

“You don’t have to be a genius to see that the report indicates that it’s not a good idea,” Hayes said.

He pointed to a portion of the draft study that recognizes the watershed area is currently built out to its zoned density and, in his interpretation, any new development could severely impact the local wetlands.

“It does say that the development whether on existing sites or small developments — and this is not a small development — has the potential to take an incremental toll on the system,” Hayes said. “It follows that the primary watershed area, which includes Indian Hills Country Club, has the potential to have a more direct impact. That’s pretty straightforward.”

The property owners also cited concerns regarding excessive water runoff if townhouses are built on the bluff’s slopes. The proposed development they fear could worsen existing flooding of local roadways and increase pollutant levels of nitrates and phosphorus in various bodies of water, including Fresh Water Pond.

The Town of Huntington Planning Board is expected to vote Wednesday night on a resolution that would require The Northwind Group to perform a full environmental study of their proposed development.

“The board will be utilizing portions of the draft Crab Meadow Watershed Study to substantiate its decision to issue a positive [SEQRA] declaration,” said town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. “A positive declaration is issued in order to establish the fact that the intended project may have one or more significant environmental impacts and that a Draft Environmental Impact Statement must be prepared to analyze potential impacts.”

Residents can review the full draft watershed report on the town’s website under the Planning and Environment Department page at: www.huntingtonny.gov/crab-meadow-watershed.

The town is accepting all public comments through April 30 either online or letters can be mailed to: Huntington Town Hall, Department of Maritime Services (Room 300), 100 Main St., Huntington, NY 11743.