Members of the North Sea community were elated Thursday as the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals declared that a proposed day camp off Majors Path will require a variance to proceed — a prerequisite that will be difficult to obtain and could stop the camp in its tracks.
The Little Fresh Pond Association and an ad hoc group named North Sea Neighbors are fighting the proposal for a day camp at the former . They appealed a building inspector’s Aug. 9, 2011, determination that no variance would be required to turn the former tennis club/tennis camp into a day camp with overnight accommodations for the staff. On Thursday night, after and even , the ZBA agreed with the North Sea residents, voting 6-0 to overturn the building inspector’s decision. The seventh member, Chairman Herb Phillips, was absent.
ZBA member David Reilly read to the crowd an abridged version of the 16-page decision, which stated that at issue was whether the North Sea residents had standing to appeal the building inspector’s determination, whether the site’s use as a camp had been abandoned and, the principal matter, whether the expansion and alteration of the tennis camp into a day camp was a change of use requiring a variance.
Reilly said that while the camp developer, Southampton Day Camp Realty, contends that the residents had no standing, the ZBA found that they do. But the ZBA disagreed with the residents’ contention that the site’s use as a tennis camp/tennis club had been abandoned, finding that it was functioning as recently as 2010.
The key issue was complicated by the fact that the town zoning code does not define or list any standards for a “tennis camp,” Reilly said, but the ZBA’s decision fell in the residents’ favor.
“This board also finds that the tennis camp and day camp operations are not interchangeable uses under the code and therefore if the camp wants to operate a day camp, they must come back to this board and seek a variance,” Reilly said.
John Barona, the president of the Little Fresh Pond Association, said following the ZBA’s pronouncement that the decision is a huge relief to North Sea. “It’s been a dark cloud over our head for several months,” he said.
The Little Fresh Pond Association is especially interested in the matter because the propose day camp would have frontage on the pond. Residents argued that a camp on the pond would threaten their quite enjoyment of their homes and threaten the pond’s ecological health.
Barona acknowledged that their battle is not over yet. The developers will be back in front of the ZBA to ask for the variance.
But, according to Jim Henry, the attorney for the North Sea residents, getting a variance from the ZBA will be no easy task.
“They have their work cut out for them,” Henry said of the developers.
Henry, of the Northern Environmental Law Center in Sag Harbor, said that the standards for a use variance are strict and the notion that a tennis club could be expanded to a 500-kid day camp is a “stretch.” The land is currently zoned residential.
Thursday night’s ZBA decision was “everything we hoped for” and it reaffirmed public policy of not expanding nonconforming uses, Henry said.
“It’s a big victory for balanced development in Southampton Town — one of the most important decisions the ZBA has made,” he said.
“It’s a credit to the North Sea community at large,” said Lucy Dunn, a co-chair of the North Sea Citizens Advisory Committee.
Jay Jacobs, the owner of the parcel and the man behind Southampton Day Camp Realty, did not immediately reply to a request for comment as the news broke Thursday night. Jacobs owns in East Hampton and is the New York State Democratic Committee chairman.