Residents of a North Sea neighborhood and others in Southampton Town concerned with the ecological health of Little Fresh Pond poured into the board room Thursday night for a heated public hearing they demanded on an application to start a day camp in North Sea at a defunct tennis site with frontage on the pond.
In addition to pollution concerns for Little Fresh Pond, residents cite traffic and noise among their reasons for opposing the day camp plan by Jay Jacobs, the New York State Democratic Committee Chairman who owns in East Hampton.
North Sea residents appealed a building department determination that would allow the camp application to proceed without a review by the zoning board of appeals.
"The neighbors are looking to reverse, in whole or in part, the building inspector's determination," Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray explained.
The camp plan is still be subject to a review by the Suffolk County Planning Commission, because of its proximity to county parkland, and an environmental review and site plan review under the Southampton Town Planning Board.
But the neighbors would like to stop the plan in its tracks as soon possible, insisting that Jacobs' claim that the site, the former , has a pre-existing nonconforming use as a camp. The neighbors say Jacobs is seeking a change of use, which would require the zoning board's approval.
"The problem we have ... is there no clear definition of what a tennis camp is," Jacobs' attorney Wayne Bruyn told the zoning board.
Bruyn said the site has valid and uncontested certificates of occupancy for its structures and it has long been a camp. "A camp is a camp is a camp," he said, later adding, "Intensification of use is not a change of use."
While Jacobs is seeking permission for a camp with 400 or so children and 60 staffers, Bruyn said that, because of the vastness of the site, the health department would allow for a capacity of 900 to 1,000 children.
Speaking on behalf on the opposition, James Henry, the managing director of Sag Harbor Group, said that despite what activities or facilities operated on the site in the past, "Uses other than tennis have been abandoned on this site for years," and it has most recently operated as a members-only tennis club for adults.
As the public comment period began, a recurring theme was preserving the health of Little Fresh Pond, and the measures residents have taken to protect the pond, some on their own and others as required for building permits.
Robert Goldfarb, who has had a house on Little Fresh Pond for four decades, said the pondside neighbors came together a long time ago to protect their pond as neighboring water bodies became polluted. They upgraded septic systems and stopped using lawn fertilizers, he said.
Edna Teich, a pondside resident, said it took her three years to get permission to renovate her house, and she had to put in six septic tanks to prevent pollution of Little Fresh.
Barbara Ash of Bridgehampton called the camp application a "bloated greedy plan that threatens the pond and community," and said the site is "a wonderful candidate for a nature preserve."
North Sea resident Grant Greenburg said Little Fresh Pond is a very fragile ecosystem, and putting a camp right near it, with traffic from buses entering the neighborhood is "unacceptable." He said that if the camp is established, he'll be there when the buses come down the street to let the kids know they are not welcome.
After others had their two minutes each for public comment, camp opponents expressed outrage that Jacobs was permitted to go on for nearly five minutes.
"He's responding to everything all 40 people said," zoning board Chairman Herb Phillips said as the crown grumbled. "Give him a minute."
Jacobs attempted to placate opponents anger at his plan, and beat back "misstatements."
"I believe that there is a genuine sense of fear and concern over what's going to happen with this property," Jacobs said. "I want to make it clear that I respect and completely understand those concerns, the concerns of any homeowner who believes that their quiet enjoyment to their property or the value of their property may be in anyway be diminished by what I or anyone else does."
Jacobs said, "No one has the right to knowingly make misstatements of fact about what we're doing," citing letters published about his plan. There will be no "spewing sewage into Little Fresh Pond," there will be no campers in the pond, nor children urinating in the pond, he said.
"People have decided on their view without every caring about whether the facts interfere with this," he said.
Jacobs said that while there were 100 angry faces at the meeting, he wanted to talk about those who weren't there. He said 60 to 70 local people would be employed at the camp — the crowd grimaced at the claim employees would be local — and the camp would patronize local vendors. The camp will also accept children and parents who otherwise couldn't afford day camp, and children of first responders.
"This is the best use for their piece of property," Jacobs asserted. "It operates eight to 10 weeks for the year, different from a home project, which would have multiple homes that would operate all year long."
Jacobs concluded with a response to the neighbors' desire to see the parcel preserved: "If they want this land preserved, they have every right to buy it."
The hearing was adjourned to Dec. 1.