Southampton Town Planning Board members intend to put an end to the contentious debate over whether the Southampton Country Day Camp’s proposed change of use from a tennis camp to a day camp in North Sea will have an adverse environmental impact—at least the debate before that board.
Chairman Dennis Finnerty said he expects the Planning Board to approve a final environmental findings statement on Thursday evening, September 13, and hand the proposal back to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which will continue to review the change of use application for the 17.28-acre parcel on Majors Path.
The proposed findings statement says that there would be no significant impact or impacts that couldn’t easily be mitigated.
The applicant—Jay Jacobs, the longtime Nassau County Democratic Committee chairman, who is the owner and operator of several children’s camps across New York—expected the board to approve the findings statement at its meetings on August 9 and 23, but the board delayed a vote in order to address “several minor corrections and revisions before we could adopt,” Mr. Finnerty said Friday.
Many of the revisions come following testimony the Planning Board heard from people opposed to the application. Some members of the community are concerned that the large number of campers that would be allowed under the change of use would be excessively loud in a residential area and would pollute Little Fresh Pond, which abuts the property.
Attorney Wayne Bruyn, who spoke on behalf of Mr. Jacobs at the August 23 meeting, called the lack of action by the board a “disappointment.”
“We had the majority to adopt it [in August], but we wanted to have a tighter document for the ZBA to work from,” Mr. Finnerty said. “This has been a long process.”
The property had operated as a membership tennis club since 2006 as a pre-existing, non-conforming use in a residential district. In an attempt to re-brand the Southampton Racquet Club, Mr. Jacobs applied to the ZBA for a change of use in 2010 that would designate the “tennis camp” as a “day camp” instead, to meet the growing demand for children’s summer camps.
The ZBA found the camp was not zoned to operate two non-conforming uses in 2012, and moved the issue to the Planning Board for an environmental review process for the day camp use.
“After three years of extensions requested by the applicant month after month, I don’t think an extra few weeks really affected the applicant,” the Planning Board chairman added.
Nevertheless, without any other delays, the Planning Board is expected to adopt the findings statement this week. If that’s the case, Jimmy Silber of the Little Fresh Pond Association, which has been in opposition to the proposal, said the Planning Board’s approval would be “rubber-stamped” by the ZBA.
Mr. Silber said that the findings statement does not adequately include submissions of environmental groups that refute the data supplied by the applicant. “All they did was accept the data of the applicant,” he added.
The Planning Board did complete a final environmental impact statement, or FEIS, in June, which addressed much of the testimony submitted by the community during public hearings. The board still found that the camp would not have a significant impact on the environment or present any new issues that couldn’t be easily mitigated, according to the draft of the findings statement.
Mr. Silber argued that the findings statement does not take into account what was addressed in the FEIS.
“It was like all of the experts that we hired were inconsequential, and that their testimony was not used in making the final determination,” he added. “We find that unacceptable. How is that an impartial report?”
“I expect the opponents will try to convince the ZBA that our environmental review is flawed,” Mr. Finnerty said. “The ZBA will pore over all of the methodology and all of the environmental review and determine if there are any areas or aspects that need to be reopened.”
Based on new information being brought forward, the ZBA could open its own supplemental environmental review that focuses on certain aspects of the Planning Board’s review.
Mr. Silber said he worries that once it goes back to the ZBA, “the rest will be a formality” and the environmental impact won’t be questioned again. He added that granting the camp a change of use variance would “change the character of the neighborhood.”
“I think we got it right,” Mr. Finnerty countered. “There’s a lot of studies, a lot of deep analysis. So far, there has been nothing submitted to our board that shows we got it wrong.”
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