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Oct 30, 2018 3:21 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Jay Jacobs Ready To Address Southampton Country Day Camp Proposal Before ZBA, Again

Southampton Country Day Camp on Majors Path in North Sea abuts Little Fresh Pond.
Oct 30, 2018 3:47 PM

While on a recent tour of a children’s summer camp he owns in North Sea, Jay Jacobs said he is again ready to make his case to the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, November 1, seeking to allow a change of its use.

Mr. Jacobs, who has served as Nassau County Democratic Committee chairman for nearly two decades and for a stint as the party’s state chair, contends he has the right to make changes to his property and to expand his business to meet a growing demand for children’s summer camps—he operates several camps in the Northeast.

“In the United State of America, still, if you buy property, you have certain property rights, and they are generally prescribed by law,” Mr. Jacobs said. “I have my property rights, and [my neighbors] have theirs. And I have to respect theirs, and I do, but they have to respect mine, too.

“At this juncture, it is a matter of principle,” he said of his application before the ZBA.

For nearly a decade, the town has been reviewing his proposal to change Southampton Country Day Camp on Majors Path from a tennis camp to a summer day camp use in a residential neighborhood. The property had operated as a membership tennis club since 2006 as a pre-existing, non-conforming use.

In 2012, the ZBA found that the camp could not be zoned to operate more than just tennis, and moved the issue to the Planning Board for an environmental review process.

In September, Planning Board members narrowly decided that the proposed changes to the children’s summer camp would not have a harmful effect on the environment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The application now returns to the ZBA—and emotions are sure to run high, said Jimmy Silber, a member of the Little Fresh Pond Association, which has been opposed to this proposal.

“We feel it’s not a proper zoning change,” Mr. Silber said. “It’s a residential community, and the town isn’t set up to allow for pre-existing, non-conforming uses to expand like this. The purpose of zoning is to phase out pre-existing, non-conforming uses—but left unchecked, this will be the largest commercial enterprise in North Sea.”

Opponents like Mr. Silber say the town must restrict the use of the camp, because, left unchecked, a large number of campers could impact noise and traffic patterns in the residential community. They are also concerned about the effect on Little Fresh Pond, which the camp abuts.

Meanwhile, camp enrollment has already grown in size but is far below the property’s capacity cap set by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. And, to the dismay of some neighbors, mini buses travel to and from the camp on Majors Path daily during the summer months.

Mr. Jacobs has changed some of his plans after hearing concerns from neighbors, like offering to relocate a pre-existing basketball court away from their properties. He also noted children and staff are not allowed to go into the pond.

“But what frightens us is that, without restrictions in place, if Mr. Jacobs decides in five years that the kids would love to go down to the lake, he can do that,” Mr. Silber said. “The land can be paved to allow access to the lake. He has a right to be in the lake the way the property is deeded now. There is no legal anything that can prevent him from changing his mind from what he is saying now.”

As for what happens next, Chairman Adam Grossman said the ZBA would likely approve the environmental findings of the Planning Board, and begin to hear testimony on how potentially changing the use of the camp from one non-conforming use to another will affect the neighborhood. He noted that the town code requires the board to allow changes that are “beneficial to the general neighborhood” and which have “reasonable conditions and safeguards that the board stipulates.”

“We could either grant the requested variance, or we could deny it,” Mr. Grossman said. “We, as a board, can also agree to certain terms of the application. However, it could be that, along the way, there may be communication between the attorney for the applicant and the neighbors about modifications to the application to address concerns of the neighbors. That’s not uncommon—I encourage it—and the application could change further.”

However, that’s unlikely, Mr. Silber said.

In 2012, Mr. Jacobs sued members of the Little Fresh Pond Association after they circulated leaflets that he said defamed his character. The lawsuit was dismissed as a “SLAPP” suit by a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge, who ruled it was filed solely to quiet his opponents. Mr. Jacobs was ordered to pay the defendants’ legal fees.

“And that has not made us want to be friendly toward him—the guy who has sued us,” Mr. Silber said.

Another potential outcome of public hearings before the ZBA is that opponents of the proposal could come forward with new information that would call for a supplemental environmental study. Opponents say the dissenting opinion of three members of the Planning Board should be enough to warrant the need for a supplemental; it was approved, 4-3.

“Theoretically, yes, that could happen, but we try to follow SEQRA to the letter, and I believe that, for the most part, environmental issues were properly addressed at the Planning Board level,” Mr. Grossman said.

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