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Sep 13, 2018 5:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Split Planning Board Approves Southampton Country Day Camp Environmental Review

Opponents of the camp at Thursday's Planning Board meeting.  DANA SHAW
Sep 17, 2018 4:18 PM

A children’s summer camp in North Sea will not have a harmful effect on the environment, the Southampton Town Planning Board decided on Thursday, September 13, apparently clearing the way for a required change of use.

The decision didn’t come easy: After months of debate, the vote was 4-3 in favor of approval.

Since 2012, the town has been reviewing an application to change the use of the Southampton Country Day Camp on Majors Path, owned by Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, from a tennis camp to a day camp to meet what the applicant says is a growing demand for children’s summer camps.

The application will now return to the Zoning Board of Appeals after the Planning Board’s six-year environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The number of campers and the direction of the groundwater flow around Little Fresh Pond, which abuts the property, were the primary issues debated by board members and community members opposed to the plan.

After several adjournments by the board with the intention of making a more robust report, the final iteration of a findings statement that the board adopted quantified the number of campers on average to be 360, with 90 staff members at a given time, and peak weeks maxing out at 420 campers.

Board members Glorian Berk, Jacqui Lofaro and Robin Long, who were opposed to the findings statement, called for a supplemental environmental study by a third party to review the groundwater flow around Little Fresh Pond. The public would be able to again weigh in on those findings.

Studies funded by the opponents of the plan say that groundwater flows toward the pond, while the applicant’s study reported an outward flow.

Ms. Lofaro said adverse impacts were “inadequately” addressed by the Planning Board while reviewing the environmental review.

Ellen Feldman, a Cashin Associates environmental planner who was hired by the board as a consultant to draft the findings statement, said that Cashin hydrologists conducted a third-party review, which substantiated the applicant’s study. “We did not go along with the applicant,” Ms. Feldman said during the meeting. “It was a neutral review.”

However, the Cashin analysis is not formally included in the findings statement, which comprises the draft environmental impact statement submitted by the applicant and the final environmental impact statement that includes public comment.

“We never learned why one expert did it one way and another did it another way,” Ms. Berk said. “We need a proper third party to be a part of this.”

Ms. Lofaro added that if she “doesn’t know for sure which way the water is flowing,” there could be an impact.

“But our own expert found that the findings did not invalidate the applicant’s findings,” Planning Board member Philip Keith said. He, along with Chairman Dennis Finnerty, Vice Chairman John Blaney and board member John Zuccarelli, voted to approve the findings statement.

“We don’t want to be bouncing back and forth,” Mr. Keith added. “We have seen arguments on both sides, and hired our own experts that we can hang our hats on. … That’s the point we are at.

“We are not the ‘Little Fresh Pond Association Planning Board’ or the ‘Southampton Country Day Camp Planning Board.’ We are the Southampton Town Planning Board, and we need to look at the best use of camp,” he continued.

Mr. Finnerty said that, in essence, the 17.28-acre camp was actually zoned for 22 residential lots, which meant the land could potentially be home to “22 cesspools, at least 22 bathrooms, [and] 22 washing machines.”

“As planners who keep the code, we assume it’s going to be 22 house lots,” Mr. Finnerty said.

Ms. Long argued that board members must consider the application and only the application before them. She also said input from the applicant that was submitted on May 16, which Ms. Feldman said Cashin used in compiling the findings statement, and September 12, which—the day before the meeting—lowered the maximum number of campers to 420 from 480, should not be considered by the board, because it was submitted after deadline.

Several board members acknowledged that the public comment had not been kept closed—it was officially closed in April, but the board continued to add testimony from both the applicant and the community up until last Thursday. Mr. Finnerty said it’s ultimately up to the board whether to approve testimony after a set deadline, but that would require a board vote, which never happened.

The debate between panel members created a stir in the Town Hall boardroom. The audience—made up primarily of Little Fresh Pond Association members—was repeatedly shushed and told during the meeting to put down signs in an attempt to sway the board.

By the time the final vote was cast, and the findings statement was approved, community members chanted the word “shame,” and threatened to sue the board.

Outside the boardroom, association member Jimmy Silber said members are discussing a possible lawsuit to appeal the Southampton Town Planning Board’s decision to a state court.

“This is a ridiculous approach to resolving what is already an environmental problem,” he said, noting that Little Fresh Pond is currently contaminated with blue-green algae caused by an abundance of nitrogen in the waterway. “The pond is dying.”

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Ms. Long, Ms. Berk and Ms. Lofaro have it right. It’s hard to see how the majority could have voted the way they did. The 22-house apprehension is misplaced; as Ms. Long observed in that connection, the Board is limited to consideration of the application before it, and not any extraneous, speculative factors. Maybe the ZBA will take a more rational approach.
By Turkey Bridge (1933), Quiogue on Sep 13, 18 11:17 PM
All true. The decision did not address the falsehoods, challenges & deficiencies running throughout the document. What Mr. Finnerty has neatly sidestepped is the claim of right to subdivide into 22 lots is predicated on the lie that the old cottages were actually institutional dormitories. A most ridiculous assertion, indeed. The Board's job was to address that untruth & it refused to. Paternalistic pandering at its worst.
By East End 2 (141), Southampton on Sep 14, 18 8:25 AM
Decision has been made. Deal with it.
By A Great American (78), East Quogue on Sep 14, 18 12:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
With all the focus on water quality which is pretty poor on little fresh pond you would think that the board would have given a lot of attention to present water quality and the FUTURE IMPACT of another 420 people. A 22 lot subdivision does NOT mean and is NOT equivalent to 420 people flushing toilets and doing laundry and cooking etc. unless the board wants to allow 20 +/- people in each house which is not legal by our standards. SO if we look at the numbers then the only equivalent to 420 campers ...more
By AL (70), southampton on Sep 14, 18 8:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
My grandson attends that camp, along with his friends
He is 9 years old.
They arrive at 8--and leave at 4:30.
They don't sleep there or live there
They don't "cook or do laundry
The camp is closed--will reopen late June.

By aging hipster (179), Southampton on Sep 14, 18 9:41 AM
1 member liked this comment
Glad it's not next to your home. Whew.
By East End 2 (141), Southampton on Sep 14, 18 9:52 AM
Future Stars, Summer Camps,