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Neighbors, North Sea camp owner battle over expansion proposal

The Southampton Town Planning Board could soon decide on a proposed zoning change for Southampton Camp & Club, after a nearly eight-year battle between neighbors and the owner, Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs. (Credit: Newsday / Rachelle Blidner)

Southampton Town officials could soon decide on a North Sea camp’s proposed zoning change after a nearly eight-year battle between neighbors and the owner, Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs.

The Southampton Town Planning Board is expected to rule this spring on whether it could accept a change of use at Southampton Camp & Club.

The change of use from a tennis camp to a day camp would allow for bigger facilities, more amenities and the relocation of some sport courts, town principal planner Clare Shea said.

Jacobs has operated the Majors Path site as a 10-week summer camp with nearly 300 campers for years. He said that while he could continue to run a camp without a variance, he is “trying to do this the right way.” A zone change would codify current operations, he said.

“We’ve established that the environmental impact of the change we’re requesting will be minimal at best, and we’re looking forward to the process moving ahead,” Jacobs said this week.

Jacobs purchased the 17-acre property, which is surrounded by homes, for $7 million in 2010. It had been run for decades as a tennis club with an accessory tennis camp, and needs a change of use variance to run as a day camp, according to a 2012 town zoning board of appeals ruling.

Neighbors said they are concerned that allowing a regular day camp will increase noise and ensnarl traffic in the sleepy hamlet while polluting Little Fresh Pond. Residents have faced off against Jacobs in court several times, including in a $45 million libel lawsuit he filed against camp opponents, which was dismissed.

“It’s been a long, hard road, and I think everybody feels we’re all doing the right thing,” said Celeste Frank, president of the Little Fresh Pond Association.

The town planning board will have to soon “start making hard decisions of whether the site needs to be mitigated or the project as proposed is an option,” Shea said. It has identified a number of issues with the change of use proposal, including potential impacts to noise and groundwater. The use might also be “out of character” with the area, she said.

Wayne Bruyn, an attorney for both Jacobs and Southampton Village, said Jacobs’ application is “vastly” different from what it had been when the ZBA ruled. Jacobs now plans to keep seven of 10 courts for tennis instead of only two and has extended public water supply and upgraded septic systems.

North Sea resident Jimmy Silber said Jacobs’ current operations do not comply with an accessory tennis camp zoning. He also raised concerns that a residence used to house counselors for Jacobs’ East Hampton camp was cited with 61 code violations in 2015.

Those charges, which Jacobs called inaccurate, were dismissed in a $12,500 settlement with East Hampton Town last year.

A Southampton code enforcement officer cited the camp for not complying with a tennis camp use in July, but the violation notice was rescinded because the swimming pool and sports court were permitted for a tennis camp use by the ZBA in a later decision, Town Attorney James Burke said. The use was also upheld by the Suffolk County Supreme Court.

The Southampton Town building inspector has visited the North Sea camp several times and found it to be operating legally, Shea said.

Jacobs, who owns several other camps in New York and Pennsylvania, disputed neighbors’ claims and said a day camp is the best use of the property, especially because it could otherwise be developed.

“What better way to preserve the land than to have this operate as a camp?” he said.

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