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Aug 17, 2018 10:53 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Planning Board Aims To Issue Finding Statement On Southampton Country Day Camp

Aug 22, 2018 10:45 AM

The Southampton Town Planning Board is nearly ready to move the contentious debate regarding the Southampton Day Camp’s request to change its use in an effort to increase activity at the camp in North Sea back to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said in an interview Wednesday that he anticipates a few board members to be "out of town" during the August 23 meeting. He added that the Planning Board will ask the applicant for a one-month extension before issuing a final findings statement, barring any other hiccups.

At a meeting on August 9, Wayne Bruyn, the camp’s attorney, granted the Planning Board until August 23 to “dot their I’s and cross their T’s” in the board’s draft findings statement, which reviews the environmental impact of the proposed change of use of the 17.28-acre parcel at 665 Majors Path from tennis camp to day camp.

When the Planning Board issues its final findings statement, it would effectively end the board’s lengthy review process, which it began after the ZBA found the “camp” was not zoned to operate two non-conforming uses in 2012.

The Planning Board’s first consideration of the findings statement on August 9 sparked its own controversy when Ellen Feldman, a Cashin Associates environmental planner who was hired by the board as a consultant to draft the findings statement, couldn’t answer for circumstantial critiques made by board members, and officials began to speak with the applicant through Mr. Bruyn instead.

“Nothing in the findings statement is new information,” Ms. Feldman said, pointing to a report completed as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. “It’s a summary of the draft environmental impact statement and the final environmental impact statement that you all already approved.”

Chatter in the boardroom grew louder. A handful of attendees were there in opposition to the camp’s proposed expansion, holding signs. Board member Philip Keith asked them to put them down, “as they could be inferred as public comment.” The Planning Board had already held several public comment periods and hearings to aid in their environmental review.

“No one should be able to speak on the applicant’s behalf if we cannot speak!” shouted Jeffrey Bragman, an attorney who represents neighbors in opposition, and who was elected to the East Hampton Town Board last year.

Mr. Bragman was silenced by Mr. Finnerty’s call to order. “The public can point out all of the shortcomings of this document when it goes to the ZBA, which can do its own findings statement,” Mr. Finnerty said.

The board then exclusively spoke with Ms. Feldman—which ultimately led to the board deciding it needed an extension to add “key language” to the draft findings statement.

Many of the issues the Planning Board cited were concurrent with the testimony it had received from the proposal’s opposition. The community is concerned about the impact of camp activities on Little Fresh Pond, which abuts the property. Opponents of the plan have said the large number of campers could impact the level of noise, traffic and water pollution in the residential community.

Nevertheless, the Planning Board stated in its environmental review that there would be no significant impacts or impacts that couldn’t be easily mitigated.

The largest of the concerns were related to how the town will monitor enrollment at the camp—even if the Planning Board takes “no action” in its findings statement, the number of campers is projected to grow to whatever its sanitary systems and town safety code would allow.

“We need something short of standing at the entrance of the camp every morning with a clipboard,” Mr. Finnerty said.

Based on what was approved by Suffolk County Health Department, the camp’s dormitories are allowed an annual grandfathered septic discharge of 544,000 gallons per year, which allows for about 360 campers and 90 staff on average. The enrollment bell curves during the 10-week summer camp with smaller numbers in the early weeks, but, by week six, enrollment peaks at 480.

Board member Robin Long suggested that the county Health Department’s authorization of sanitary systems based on gallons per year is inferior for seasonal properties like a summer camp.

“Four months out of the year, you have this intense impact,” Ms. Long said. “Remediation over a year with months of no use—you can’t accurately project what real impact is going to be made.”

Ultimately, the Planning Board’s concerns are for the ZBA to consider—that board will have to coordinate with town code enforcement and attorneys to settle on an enrollment monitoring plan.

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