Riverside hotel deal may not be dead

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

A hotel and conference center might be built in Riverside after all.

Local residents were angered in December after the county Legislature voted to acquire a 20-acre site on the Peconic River in Riverside as open space.

Developer and Southampton Inn owner Dede Gotthelf had planned about 10 years ago to put a hotel and conference center on the site. Flanders and Riverside residents overwhelmingly felt that Ms. Goffhelf’s project, called Rivercatwalk, could provide the economic boost they felt the area needed.

Those dreams appeared to be shattered by the discovery that the county was buying the land for $3.5 million in order to not build anything on it. The communities of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton belong to the Riverhead School District and often have high tax rates due in part to a lack of taxable commercial land, a mostly residential tax base and a large amount of tax-exempt land.

But that sale wasn’t finalized and, as the year progressed, the county’s plan to acquire the site was altered. In the deal, which was finalized Sept. 9, about six of the 20 acres were retained by Ms. Gotthelf.

That’s when Ms. Gotthelf officially conveyed 13.9 acres of the land to the Peconic Land Trust for $2.43 million. The PLT, in turn, immediately sold the property to the county for the same amount. This made Ms. Gotthelf eligible for a “bargain sale” tax exemption, because the land had been appraised at a higher price, according to Yvette DeBow-Saisedo of the PLT.

“I’ll do whatever the community asks for, that the town board will support,” Ms. Gotthelf said in a phone interview. “As long as it’s economically viable.

“And if we can’t, I’ll be very happy to work with the Peconic Land Trust on preservation.”

“This is a great development,” said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk). He believes Ms. Gotthelf may be able to develop a good portion of her original plan on the land that remains. The original plan called for a hotel, conference center and 10 cottages on the 20 acres.

Mr. Schneiderman, who said he’s spoken with Ms. Gotthelf about the new plans, indicated that she is eliminating the cottages but may still have room for the hotel and conference center on the 5.9 acres she retained.

The land she retained is on the eastern portion of the property and extends from Flanders Road to the Peconic River, he said.

“The community was really disappointed when it appeared that the whole property was being preserved,” he said.

“It’s not often you get a second chance at something like this, especially when it appeared all hope was gone,” said Flanders resident Richard Naso, who had been critical of the county decision to buy the land as open space in December. “Hopefully, if all the parties are in agreement, we can get something to move forward.”

Mr. Schneiderman said Ms. Gotthelf is planning to meet privately soon with some representatives of the community and the town, and that a public meeting might be held later to get community input on developing the six acres.

The proposal to reduce the amount of land sold came about because of a right-of-way running through the property from the road to the river, Mr. Schneiderman said. That right-of-way affected Ms. Gotthelf and the owners of five other pieces of land, so it was difficult selling it to the county without permission of the other landowners, he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said the possibility still exists that Ms. Gotthelf may be able to acquire those neighboring parcels.

The 13.9 acres being preserved are on the western end of the property, next to the Flanders Road McDonald’s. All of the land is undeveloped, and Ms. Gotthelf ran into some environmental concerns when she originally tried to build on the 20 acres.

In 2008, Ms. Gotthelf filed a federal lawsuit seeking $25 million in damages from a variety of Southampton Town and New York State officials and others, claiming they had conspired to delay her project and that town officials tried to get her to sell her property to another developer. The lawsuit also claims she was discriminated against because of her gender. That lawsuit was dropped earlier this year; federal records indicate it was closed on June 13, 2011.

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