A group of neighbors who have opposed a plan to create a seasonal day camp on Majors Path in North Sea are now challenging a determination by Southampton Town Building Inspector Michael Benincasa that the most recent form of the proposal is not an expansion or change of use from what currently exists at the site.
Residents opposed to the camp filed an appeal with the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday challenging Mr. Benincasa’s determination—his support of a list of 10 items prepared by the developer’s attorney, Wayne Bruyn of O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn in Southampton.
The report states that the application does not present an increase in size or change of the current preexisting, nonconforming use at the site. Because of that, the report agrees with the developer’s claim that the project does not need review by the ZBA or the granting of variances, and the proposal can go directly to the Planning Board for site plan approval.
Property owner Jay Jacobs, under the auspices of Southampton Day Camp Realty LLC, had originally sought use variances from the ZBA, but in recent weeks withdrew the application and instead is asking for a site plan review from the Planning Board, intending to renovate the structures currently on the property.
The project aims to create a day camp that would boast an enrollment of up to 400 campers. The camp would also employ about 60 counselors who would live on the 17.3-acre campgrounds during the summer months. That has not changed from the original proposal, though organizers acknowledge that enrollment likely will be smaller in the first few years.
According to town documents filed by the applicant, the entire property has been used as a sports camp and facility since the 1930s, although there’s nothing currently operating on the property. Mr. Jacobs said a tennis club and day camp was running as recently as last year, but residents challenge that, claiming that the camp use has been abandoned for decades. They say that children haven’t attended camp there for at least 40 years.
The plan became the subject of public outcry earlier this summer when Mr. Jacobs was looking to expand the facilities on the site. Residents said they feared that the opening of a summer day camp would create traffic and noise problems, and could pollute neighboring Little Fresh Pond.
Now, Mr. Jacobs is looking to keep the current structures on the property—which includes 12 cottages and several sports courts and decks—while also upgrading some of the facilities, like the site’s septic system.
In support of the Planning Board application, Mr. Bruyn obtained a determination from Mr. Benincasa last month that essentially established that the proposed day camp was a preexisting, non-conforming use, and that the proposed plan does not constitute a change or expansion of that use.
But the neighbors are contesting Mr. Benincasa’s determination. On Monday, a group of them, who belong to four local community groups representing several hundred residents—the Little Fresh Pond Association, the Lake Missapogue (Big Fresh Pond) Association, the North Sea Citizens Action Committee, and the North Sea Neighbors—filed an application with the ZBA to appeal Mr. Benincasa’s determination. They argue that Mr. Jacobs’s plans are a change in use from the current site’s operations.
They are also claiming that the pre-existing, nonconforming summer camp use was abandoned, noting that, most recently, a tennis club was run on the property, and that overnight campers haven’t been there for decades. They’re also claiming that the application now before the Planning Board still requires area and use variances.
“Because the property is in a residential district, it cannot be used for commercial uses, other than the use it was deemed to have previously had by the ZBA in 1998, which was a tennis club,” Foster Maer, a resident who belongs to the Little Fresh Pond Association, said in an email statement. “Thus, it cannot be used as a day camp. We believe that this is the fundamental issue that needs to be decided first before any determinations about it are made by the town.”
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Jacobs, who did not know about the residents’ ZBA appeal, said he was still going forward with the Planning Board application as planned.
“I don’t think their argument has merit, and I think that the characterization of the size of our project is a gross exaggeration,” he said. “I think that they have every right to make their challenge, and I’m pretty confident that we’re right, both in the facts and the law, and we’ll prevail on it. And that’s that.”