A proposal to develop a large summer day camp in North Sea is expected to reach a highly anticipated climax in February.
North Sea residents who oppose the plan have asked the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to hear their challenge to a determination made by Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa in August that the project would not constitute a change or expansion of use under the town’s zoning laws, and therefore doesn’t need a variance from the ZBA to operate. The board is slated make a determination on February 17.
But despite thick packets of information submitted by attorneys representing both the residents and property owner Jay Jacobs, and exhaustive testimony from neighbors during two public hearings, ZBA members are still looking for more information. Myriad complex issues were raised during the hearings, and a number of questions remain unanswered.
Board members specifically told attorneys at a meeting last Thursday, December 1, that they needed information to resolve what has emerged as the central issue in the debate—a claim by neighbors that the site hasn’t been used as a summer camp in recent years. If that is true, Mr. Jacobs would lose the argument that his planned summer camp is a preexisting, nonconforming use of the 17.3-acre site along Majors Path, and thus can proceed. If the use is deemed abandoned, then the ZBA would have to be persuaded to issue a variance allowing the project.
Abandonment can be proven if neighbors can show that the site didn’t operate as a camp for at least three consecutive years, according to ZBA Vice Chairman Adam Grossman.
ZBA members declined to offer opinions or hint at which way they will vote in February. They emphasized that much information is yet to be submitted, noting the deadline for written submissions is January 17. But they acknowledged that so far the majority of the documentation submitted by both sides appears to be both subjective and inconclusive—mostly affidavits submitted by neighbors, former tenants who used to live in cottages on the property, and one affidavit from an employee of a former camp that operated on the site.
“We were looking for something more neutral that would give us some indication of the use that was going on at the camp for the last bunch of years,” said ZBA member David Reilly, who has the lead on the application.
Throughout the course of the last several months, neighbors have vehemently opposed the project, claiming that the camp, which would operate during the summer months, would bring unwanted noise, traffic and pollution to nearby Little Fresh Pond. Mr. Jacobs, who is the also the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, has said the camp could eventually boast an enrollment of approximately 400 children who would use the site during daytime hours and 40 counselors who would live in cottages there.
The entire property was used as a sports camp and sports facility dating back to the 1930s, according to 1995 ZBA documents cited by Wayne D. Bruyn, an attorney from the Southampton firm of O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn, who has represented Mr. Jacobs in the application process. He also referred to an affidavit penned by Harold Krzyzewski on November 2. Mr. Krzyzewski claims in the document that he was employed as caretaker of the grounds by New Horizon Camp Inc. from 1986 through 2010. He acknowledged that although there were fewer campers in more recent years, there were still children who received tennis instruction and participated in other sports, including volleyball, basketball, soccer, badminton and other field games.
Meanwhile, the neighbors’ attorney, James S. Henry of the Northern Environmental Law Center of Sag Harbor, argued in documents that there were only two enterprises taking place on the property from the late 1980s through the present: a membership-based tennis club, and the seasonal renting of cottages. Affidavits provided by former renters and current residents say there weren’t any children enrolled at a camp at the site.
More recently, Mr. Henry and neighbors have argued that the use of one existing building as a dining hall—central to Mr. Jacobs’s application for a day camp—has been abandoned. The building is also referred to as a “ranch” and had at times been used as a residence, according to the documents Mr. Henry referenced.
“The clear issue before the ZBA is if the use of the dining hall/ranch as a dining hall has in fact been abandoned, then the building inspector’s decision must be vacated since it was based on the assumption that it was used as a dining hall, and the proposed use of the property as a day camp must be considered to be a change of use, which would require the owner to seek a use variance from the ZBA,” resident Foster Maer said in an email.