SOUTHOLD, NY — The Southold Town board voted 4 to 2 to pursue eminent domain proceedings for a parcel in Mattituck where a controversial hardware store has been proposed; the town said their plan is to create a park on the site.
Eminent domain means that a government entity can appropriate a private parcel for public use, while compensating the owners for the land.
The ongoing debate continued to rage in August over the 1.75 acre parcel, located at 12500 Main Road, near the intersection of Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue, as a public hearing was held on the possibility of Southold Town seizing the land through eminent domain.
In recent years, community members have turned out for public meetings concerning a plan pitched by the family that owns Brinkmann’s Hardware, which has locations in Sayville, Blue Point, Holbrook and Miller Place, as well as a paint store in Jamesport. Their plan is to open a new paint and hardware store at the Mattituck intersection.
Southold town officials would like to use the land for a public park.
On Tuesday, the board voted on the resolution, which said the goal was to create a village green and community gathering place close to the Love Lane corridor; the acquisition would ensure that the wooded lot remain undeveloped.
Southold Town Attorney Bill Duffy said the creation of a public park would serve a public purpose and added that the town would file an acquisition map with Suffolk County to acquire the parcel.
After the vote, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said his comments regarding the property in Mattituck must be limited because of pending litigation. “However, I supported the action last night which designated that the public park is a legitimate public purpose,” he said.
Southold Town Councilman James Dinizio, who voted “no”, along with Councilwoman Sarah Nappa, to seizing the land, read a statement before the vote: “I object to the use of eminent domain at this time,” he said. “The town had plenty of time to make a positive move toward bringing the wishes of the community to reality. The 2005 hamlet study and 2011 Mattituck corridor study both stated, as a goal, that a green space be created at this location. Even today, in the latest iteration of the comp plan this parcel still has all of the uses granted by hamlet business zoning that it has had for many years and only a goal for use as a park,” he said.
Dinizio added: “The suggestion that the property was not for sale and therefore not available to satisfy the wishes of the community is not valid in my opinion. The time to use such a draconian measure as eminent domain was when the property was not for sale.”
The property, Dinizio said, sat idle for years in the hands of an owner that did not have a plan for its use and the town did little to ensure that the wishes of the community as suggested by the 2005 hamlet study, the 2011 corridor study and even the current update to the master plan were carried out.
“I believe strongly that our code is the guiding document for all zoning issues in our town and when someone applies for the legal use of their land they should be confident that the town will stand by it,” he said.
The Brinkmann family did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
A judge recently ruled in favor of the Brinkmann family, who believe they have seen their efforts thwarted by a moratorium imposed by Southold Town. Southold Town recently noticed a hearing for the extension of the moratorium in question for the third time.
Litigation was commenced by Brinkmann Hardware Corp., which filed an Article 78 against Southold Town over a moratorium enacted in February, 2019; the suit maintains that while the town said the moratorium was enacted to temporarily put the brakes on the issuance of approvals and permits on Main Rd. in Mattituck while an expanded corridor study, weighing traffic impacts and other concerns, was underway — “the true purpose” of the moratorium “was to prevent them from building their hardware store.”
The suit asked the court to declare the moratorium, a local law, “unconstitutional, null and void.”
Supreme Court Justice Hon. William Ford denied Southold Town’s request for dismissal on June 22.
Eminent domain debated
At the hearing in August, members of the Brinkmann family accused Russell of blocking the project due to personal “animus.” Hank Brinkmann, a partial owner of the property said: “I am vehemently opposed to the town’s taking of my family’s property.”
He said if the true motive was a public park, the town would buy the parcel directly adjacent to his, which is currently for sale.
Brinkmann said defending the moratorium was costing taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars and a new suit to fight eminent domain proceedings “will cost them much more. . taking my family’s property will cost the taxpayers of Southold Town millions.”
Ben Brinkmann agreed “We are only asking to exercise our property rights.”
Brinkmann said his family hired a local architect and reached out to the community to work together and be open about plans. He added that even the MLCA did not endorse eminent domain.
Russell alone, he said, “is driving the eminent domain bus” and said he would fight the idea to the end. “I will never give up and be bullied off our land. We did not come to Southold looking for a fight,” he said, but if the town proceeds with eminent domain plans, the Brinkmanns will file a new suit.
Russell said he did not know the Brinkmanns, and had never heard of them or their hardware store. Members of the family, he said, called him aside at a political fundraiser to discuss the issues but Russell said he cannot speak on the matter because litigation is pending and because it is “not appropriate” to discuss such matters.
“There is nothing personal about this,” he said. “I don’t know them, had never heard of them. There is no personal animus. It’s absolutely bizarre, contrived and out of left field.”
Dinizio said the land is still zoned hamlet business; the fact that the neighbors want green space “is not in the code.”
Dinizio told Patch: “I am against the the taking of that property by eminent domain. I think that a park is not a good use for that property because it is on a dangerous corner.”
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said the county is still willing to partner with the town for preservation for that corner. “That offer is still certainly on the table for preservation,” he said.
Pleas for preservation
Assistant Town Planning Director Mark Terry gave a timeline and said hamlet studies and the town’s comprehensive plan urge that the property be used as a green space.
Dr. Anne Smith, current president of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association, said the group supported the idea of keeping the parcel, “the last green corner,” as parkland for the benefit of the community and visitors. Keeping the land as a park would help with pedestrian safety, the walkability of Main Road and the hamlet center, and create a village green.
The civic did not take a position on the issue of eminent domain.
But, she said, that corner of Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue should be “welcoming. As leaders sometimes we are waving from the balcony and sometimes, on the dance floor,” she said. “The balcony, or the long view, must be considered when making this decision.”
Denise Geis, who lives in Mattituck, said preserving the land as a public park would help to keep the rural character of the area intact. “Preserving this piece of property is very important in our town,” she said.
John Carter, former president of the MCLA, gave a timeline of meetings held with the Brinkmann family as well as work the civic has done to address traffic, pedestrian safety, density, environmental impacts, and the need for a village green.
In 2018, he said, the town and county teamed up to purchase the parcel and the town made a fair market offer to BNB; the MLCA sent letters of support. But in December, 2018, BNB sold the property to the Brinkmann property, he said.
A “path that is most protective of Mattituck’s health, safety and environment is the path that includes a village green on the last green corner,” Carter said.
“One of the Top 5 most dangerous intersections”
Mark Haubner, vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council said a traffic study in the town’s newly completed comprehensive plan, listed the intersection of New Suffolk Avenue and Main Road as one of the “top 5 most dangerous intersections” in town.
Should the land be preserved, the NFEC, which is located on property adjacent to the parcel, would work with the MLCA on management and maintenance of the park, he said.
Not everyone who spoke supported eminent domain.
Developer Paul Pawlowski, whose plan for Sports East in Mattituck were derailed in in September, 2017, when the Southold Town zoning board of appeals rendered a decision on the plan, upholding a notice of disapproval and putting the brakes on the proposed facility in Mattituck, expressed his feelings against eminent domaine.
Pawlowski said while he understands the MLCA’s vision, he found it “interesting” that when there was “plenty of opportunity for recreation” in Mattituck, none of the studies mentioned Tuesday, calling for recreational opportunities in the hamlet, had ever been brought up.
Also, he said, moratorium do “nothing” to achieve any of the town’s goals. “Zero,” he said. “When you buy or sell property, we all have to live by a playbook and that playbook is our town code. The moratorium threw that playbook out. This eminent domain argument threw that playbook out. Eminent domain is not the way to go.”
Others spoke out firmly against development on the land.
A woman who identified herself as just Tami, from Mattituck, spoke out: “Quite frankly, Mr. Brinkmann, you are not wanted here. What would we say if Supervisor Russell votes against you? We will applaud him. There are 20,000 citizens in this town that do not want you. We don’t want it to look like where you are from. You are not from here and you don’t know what it’s like to be from here. That place with green trees that you see as a worthless parcel is priceless to us.”
“Interlopers from up-island are not welcome here,” Chris Shashkin said, adding that he was “shocked at the hostile tone” he believed was taken by the Brinkmanns.
“Eminent domain is not a choice that is taken lightly,” said Bill Toedter, past president of the NFEC. “That’s attested to by the very few times such an action has been taken. But in this situation, when the community’s voice, options to compromise, negotiations, and even offers to purchase at above market price have been ignored, it leaves no other option to protect the community and the integrity of the master plan that has been years in the making. It’s an option that raises concerns. But as it’s an option that has been used sparingly, carefully, and with the greater concern of the community at its foundation, I’d hope that people would understand, respect and support its use in this case.”
Charles Gueli, also past president of the MLCA, said property rights come with “constrictions,” to protect the greater good of the community. “Southold Town should vote for the public good over the property rights of one owner. Community rights should always take precedence over one person’s property rights.”
Both sides speak out
But voices were divided.
Paige Romanowski, owner of BodyRite Training in Jamesport, said the town’s plan to seize property to build a park was a matter “of great concern and alarm to me and my family.”
She wanted to know how much the ongoing litigation was costing taxpayers. “This is getting awfully expensive,” she said. “This is reckless.” A park is not something residents have been begging for, she said. “Property seizure is wrong, it is un-American and un-Republican,” she said. “We believe this is a very, very dangerous precedent.”
The debate has echoed for years.
A crowd of irate residents packed the Mattituck Presbyterian Church in 2017, waiting their turn to speak out for two hours against the proposal for the new hardware store that they said could cause major traffic concerns — and prove deadly for pedestrians.
Three representatives of the Brinkmann family asked the MLCA if they could come to discuss the proposal. Siblings Mary Neimeth and Hank and Ben Brinkmann, as well as architect Ray Nemschick, were onhand for a presentation and question and answer session.
Brinkmann said the hamlet business zoned parcel, 1.775 acres, would feature two buildings that total 20,000 square feet, 80 parking spots, meet green space and Suffolk County Health Department requirements, and is sited to maximize solar gain. The building on the left is planned as a 12,000 square foot hardware store, with the 8,000 square foot building on the right including 3,000 square feet in the front for paint and 5,000 square feet in the rear for storage.
The issue of a traffic light came up. Brinkman said if a traffic study indicated that a traffic light and righthand turning lane was necessary, the family would pay the cost. The audience, however, denounced a traffic light idea.
Others asked about the propane tank; the Brinkmanns said it was 1,000 gallons and sits off to the side and front of the parcel, not near an apartment currently next door.
Many other residents asked why the Brinkmanns didn’t consider one of the empty buildings that exist in Mattituck, such as the Capital One building in Mattituck, or a site on Route 48.
The Brinkmanns said the Main Road location was preferable for visibility. True Value, they explained, does not get involved with site selection.
Doris McGreevy asked about new jobs. The Brinkmanns said in addition to the two employees who’d come from the Jamesport store, there would be 25 new team members hired.
Many asked why the area needed a new hardware store with shops already located in Mattituck, Jamesport, Southold, Greenport and Riverhead.
“It’s clear we’re not happy about your large store coming into our small community,” Elise Martini said. “Do you really care? Will that change your mind? Does this change anything about the way you feel?”
“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t care,” Brinkmann said, adding they requested the meeting by choice, to speak to the community.
And, he added, while, “This room is filled with concerns, our project has been very well-received throughout Mattituck.” He said he had no doubt the store would do well, and said the larger store would mean residents wouldn’t have to make the trip to Riverhead in high-traffic summer months.
Others said people come to Mattituck to escape the “hubbub” of other areas; now, traffic concerns are mounting, and some said they’d been in accidents at the proposed location.
Donielle Cardinale noted that residents “didn’t seem overly keen” on the plan and asked why the Brinkmanns didn’t consider another location, perhaps in Jamesport.
Brinkmann said they looked for more than a year for the spot. “We didn’t just land on that corner. We had to find a site that met all the requirements. We’ve done extensive work,” he said.
Others said the addition would mean traffic backed up for miles, especially during pumpkin season when traffic is already an issue.
“Do any of you live out here?” Angela McKenna asked.
The Brinkmanns said they are all from the Bayport and Sayville areas.
“I’m sorry you have to face this hostility,” one woman said. “We’re not against Brinkmann Hardware, it’s the location. You have to understand our anger is larger than you and you are kicking a hornet’s nest that is already in this community. It’s the location you have chosen that’s the problem.”