June 28, 2006

Gabreski Under Debate

A hot-button issue is once again sparking the flames of public discourse in Westhampton.

As The Independent went to press, members of the community were expected to turn out for last night's Southampton Town Board public hearing regarding the Gabreski Airport Planned Development District (PDD) draft generic environmental impact statement.

Although a PDD was already adopted for the airport in 1995, there have been some changes suggested for the district, and the public hearing is the first to discuss the proposed amendments.

Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney said he has been working with both Tom Isles, director of the Suffolk County Planning Department, and Jim Morgo, Suffolk County Commissioner of Economic Development and Workforce Housing, to refine certain aspects of the airport's PDD as it exists in the town code in order to "eliminate ambiguity of what uses are prohibited."

The amendments to the code address generic site plan issues, such as landscaping, roadside design, signage and setbacks. In addition, said Heaney, the plan is to encourage the implementation of a streetscape on County Road 31, adjacent to the 58-acre PDD.

The public hearing will provide the public with the opportunity to voice their opinions regarding amendments to the code in regards to site plan issues, such as lighting, which were not in place when the PDD was adopted in 1995.

Also, said Heaney, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is occurring concurrently.

The supervisor said that he does not expect to close the public hearing after just one go-round. "There will probably be two or three" hearings, he said.

Originally, the reason why the Gabreski Airport PDD "came into existence had everything to do with the establishment of the Pine Barrens Act," said Heaney. The Pine Barrens Act sterilized development rights in the core of the central Pine Barrens Preserve, which has become a sending area for development rights.

The town, said Heaney, was then compelled to establish a receiving area for those development rights, and the airport "was a logical, reasonable place to relocate those rights and encourage development at a place where appropriate."

Not everyone agrees. Some residents are opposed to development at the airport, and "afraid of general growth" at the site, including aviation activity.

But the supervisor explained the PDD has limitations: "We will not authorize aviation-related development in the PDD."

Heaney, who was on the town board when the Pine Barrens Act was adopted, said he promised to find a receiving area and supports the Gabreski Airport PDD. "For me, this is acting in good faith," he said.

In addition, said Heaney, the proposed PDD will have "the potential to attract clean" industry to the area and provide a chance to develop a portion of the airport as a center for Hamptons business.

And, said the supervisor, "We see the opportunity to develop a Homeland Security hub at Gabreski," which will, in turn, bolster support for the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing stationed at the airport and its presence at the site.

Heaney also supports the PDD because "this kind of development provides a rate of income for a number of taxing districts, including school districts."

The supervisor supports non-aviation related development "because doing so helps to bring Gabreski Airport more fully to its potential and, at the same time, gives us an argument to prevent expansion of aviation."

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