Locals fume as hotel dreams are dashed in Riverside

COURTESY PHOTO | An artist's rendering of what the proposed hotel would have looked like

Developer Dede Gotthelf, owner of a 20-acre site in Riverside where she had once planned to build a hotel and conference center, has agreed to sell the property to the county for preservation, eliminating any chance it ever will be developed for a hotel or anything else.

For residents of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, who had long hoped the hotel would be the economic generator they’ve wanted for their neighborhood, the agreement and the county Legislature’s December vote to approve the purchase were slaps in the face.

“Unfortunately, this property has been removed from ever being tax rate-able,” Brad Bender, president of the Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association, said at the group’s meeting on Monday. “It’s gone. They beat her down. It’s another piece of tax revenue that we’ve lost.”

The property is located along the Peconic River, just east of McDonald’s.

In 2001, the state Department of Transportation condemned a 25-acre portion of land originally intended to be part of the project and built a drainage sump there. And in recent years, as Ms. Gotthelf encountered difficulty securing permission to develop the property, the land had become a site where homeless people and prostitutes lived.

“I think everyone in the room was for that project,” Mr. Bender said Monday. “It’s current use is a dumping ground for wayward souls, homeless people and their garbage and whatever you leave behind when you’re homeless.” Now that the owner, Ms. Gotthelf, has sold the property to the county, he said, “we will not have any development on that corridor of Route 24, The homeless can stay. The drug dealers can stay, and so can the prostitutes.

“They still have their hotel on the river.”

Northampton resident Chris Sheldon blamed “dragging of feet” by the town and the state for killing the hotel project. Officials from both levels of government raised objections to the project on environmental grounds.

“And why were we kept in the dark about this after 10 years of being involved?” Mr. Sheldon asked of the purchase agreement. He said County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) knew of the community’s support for the hotel yet residents had been unaware of the deal.

Addressing community concerns, Mr. Schneiderman said in an interview Tuesday, “I understand their need for tax rateables and jobs, but it just wasn’t happening here. The owner wasn’t getting the permits for this project. There wasn’t enough room to get a sewage treatment plant on the site, there are a lot of wetlands on the site. It wasn’t going to happen. They were not going to get the scale of development here that Dede envisioned.”

Mr. Schneiderman said Ms. Gotthelf had asked the county to purchase the land.

He said there had been no attempt to keep the purchase a secret. He said the county first added the site to its list of lands worthy of preservation in 2005, and the resolution authorizing its acquisition was tabled at an earlier Legislature meeting before it was approved on Dec. 21.

Flanders resident Dave Brewer said there is already a lot of tax-exempt land in Flanders and Riverside, and the county should make payments in lieu of lost tax revenue to support services in the area.

Mr. Bender blamed the Town of Southampton for “dropping the ball” on the hotel project, and on an industrial park planned for the old drive-in property in Riverside, where he said the town has yet to accept the roads into the town road system, so they can’t be paved or plowed.

“I’m quite upset about these,” he said. “I just cannot fathom how we can drop the ball so many times in one community.”

Ms. Gotthelf, who first proposed the hotel in 2000, filed a federal lawsuit in 2008, claiming, among other charges, that Southampton Town and New York State had conspired to delay her project in order to force her to sell it at a lower price.

The 15-0 vote to authorize the acquisition of Ms. Gotthelf’s land as open space for $3.5 million came on Dec. 21, with two abstentions and one absence. County Executive Steve Levy signed the bill into law on Dec. 28. The resolution was introduced by President Officer Bill Lindsay (D-Sayville) at the request of Mr. Levy and Mr. Schneiderman.

Ms. Gotthelf, who also owns the Southampton Inn in Southampton, purchased the property in 2006 for $3 million. She could not be reached for comment.

“This was ridiculous,” Mr. Sheldon said. “This was our last chance for a nice tax base and now it’s gone.”

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