After a group of citizens was forced to give up the fight to resurrect a former sailing club on the shores of Mecox Bay in Water Mill, Southampton Town has taken up the initiative to return boats to the property.
According to Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Chris Bean, the town has plans in the works to eventually offer sailing lessons and storage for about a dozen small sailboats on the 10-acre shorefront property it owns at the end of Bay Lane, the former home of the Mecox Bay Yacht Club.
The initial private effort to revive the sailing tradition on the eastern shore of Mecox, though approved by the Town Board, died in the face of legal challenges by neighbors, who worried that their remote street would become a destination—and were willing to go to court to stop it. Jeff Mansfield, the Bridgehampton resident who had spearheaded the effort to bring the Mecox Bay Yacht Club back to life, said that supporters of the idea spent some $80,000 of their own money to prop up the club idea but could not longer sustain it financially as a result of the legal bills.
Mr. Bean said the town is looking forward to being able to expand its sailing instruction program to Mecox Bay, with its long history as a sailing destination. The town currently offers sailing instruction on two other bays, Noyac Bay near Sag Harbor and Tiana Bay in Hampton Bays.
“The plan is for something similar to what was done at the property back in the 1950s, on a very small scale,” Mr. Bean said. “It would just be a small outpost where people can have access.”
The town’s plans for the property include setting up wooden racks on which residents could store their private sailboats, primarily sunfish-style boats, and rebuilding a dilapidated shed on the property for the storage of sails and boat keels. Sailing lessons would be offered by town instructors for a small number of students, 10 or fewer, Mr. Bean said. Because of strident opposition to the establishment of a sailing program at the site by wealthy neighbors, he said the summertime program would probably be limited to weekdays.
Neighbors had railed against the idea pitched by Mr. Mansfield, saying that they worried about traffic and parking congestion on the dead-end street. They also claimed that the proposal would amount to privatizing a public property.
After the Southampton Town Board approved the use of the property for the sailing club, which Mr. Mansfield’s group touted as an affordable option for accessing the waters of the bay, neighbors went to court seeking a restraining order to prevent clearing for the boat racks, and challenged determinations by the town building inspector and zoning board that would allow for the repair of the storage shed. Two of the suits are still pending; the suit challenging the Town Board decision was dropped when the application was withdrawn, according to the attorney who represented the neighbors, Melville lawyer Bram Weber.
The parks superintendent said there have been no specific plans at the town level for the clearing of vegetation from the property where the racks would be placed as part of the town’s plans, but he said some small amount of clearing would likely be necessary.
Mr. Weber said that his clients are hopeful the town will work with them on developing plans for a sailing school “somewhere on Mecox Bay,” though he did not say if they would ever support such a program being run from the old sailing club property. The placement of racks for the storage of sailboats, he said, was something the neighbors supported and even offered to pay for.
“My clients have always been against a formal program at that location, especially one of undefined scope,” Mr. Weber said this week. “I think we hope that the Town Board and the community there can engage and find a proposal that is acceptable to both sides.”
Mr. Bean said that with the effort to repair damage to other town beach facilities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. he did not expect that the Mecox Bay sailing program would be ready to go by this coming summer.
Mr. Mansfield said this week that is heartened by the town’s plans to pick up the effort to return sailing opportunities to the bay. “I’m not even that much of a sailing enthusiast, but what I am is an enthusiast of the old ways of the Hamptons,” he said. “Our kids should have that experience.”