Tennis camp owner Jay Jacobs will not need a variance to add a swimming pool, playground and sports court for kids to his 17.4-acre property on Little Fresh Pond in North Sea.
The ZBA issued a determination on Thursday, December 20, that the proposed changes are acceptable customary accessory structures to the camp’s tennis courts, meaning that the additions would complement the property much like a private pool would a home. As a result, no further ZBA action will be necessary on those aspects of the site’s development.
The decision has been met with opposition from members of the Little Fresh Pond Association, who have been battling for two years with Mr. Jacobs over his proposal to transform the modest tennis camp into a larger day camp for hundreds of kids.
The neighbors argue that allowing Mr. Jacobs to build the pool and other accessories would essentially allow him to “back into” his proposed day camp plans. In order to convert the tennis camp into a summer camp, Mr. Jacobs would need a change of use variance—from one pre-existing, non-conforming use to another. The tennis camp predates the residential zoning designation of the surrounding area and operates as a pre-existing, non-conforming use. Earlier this year, the Town Planning Board ruled that considering the change of use would require an exhaustive environmental review, an expensive and lengthy proposition. A separate change of use application will be heard by the ZBA again at Thursday night’s meeting at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
In a letter to Mr. Jacobs in June, Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa said that a variance for the modifications was not needed, but suggested that Mr. Jacobs double check with the ZBA, since Mr. Benincasa’s last decision regarding the camp, which said that Mr. Jacobs did not need a change of use variance for his proposed day camp, was overturned by the ZBA in March.
Heeding his advice, Mr. Jacobs submitted an application seeking the ZBA’s confirmation of Mr. Benincasa’s determination. A public hearing was held in September, but the decision was postponed until December 20.
Now that the ZBA has agreed that the swimming pool, playground and sports court are acceptable accessory structures at the tennis camp, Mr. Jacobs has the green light to begin the work.
Following the ZBA ruling, neighbors voiced outrage. The addition of a swimming pool could attract three times as many people to the property as the rest of the tennis club’s facilities currently do, claimed Majors Path resident Foster Maer. “That’s not what an accessory use is supposed to do,” he said. “It’s supposed to be incidental, not dominant.”
According to John Barona, president of the Little Fresh Pond Association, the group intends to file an Article 78 lawsuit in state court, challenging the ZBA decision by arguing that Mr. Jacobs was “segmenting the job” by getting approval for pieces of his potential day camp. The group has 30 days from the determination to do so.
Just days before the ZBA offered its determination on the accessory structures, contractors working for Mr. Jacobs were issued a stop work order by Town Building Department officials for beginning renovations to one of the cottages on the property without a building permit. Neighbors of the camp tipped off building officials when they saw the construction going on.
“It is believed that the repairs and minor interior remodeling being undertaken on the premises do not require a permit under the code,” Mr. Jacobs’s attorney, Wayne Bruyn of O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn LLP, said this week. “If it is determined that any of the work does, in fact, require a permit, my client will, of course, apply for one.”
Mr. Barona said that Mr. Jacobs’s whole plan hasn’t been submitted to the town and said he is “getting stuff done backward.”
“My client has further advised that the efforts of those neighbors who seek to destroy a business that while operating less successfully for years predates most of the homeownership in the area of the tennis club and camp will not be successful,” Mr. Bruyn stated.
Also last month, a State Supreme Court judge ordered Mr. Jacobs to pay $43,000 in legal fees incurred by two neighbors, Mr. Barona and John Gorman, whom he sued for defamation of character. Earlier this year, the same judge, Justice John J.J. Jones Jr., had declared that the defamation case, which claimed the men had libeled Mr. Jacobs with a flier they distributed criticizing Mr. Jacobs’s camp proposal, was just a SLAPP lawsuit, intended to discourage public opposition to his plans. Mr. Jacobs had sued the two men for $45 million.