The Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons received final permission from the Southampton Town Planning Board last week to build a new sanctuary in Shinnecock Hills.
According to Father Alex Karloutsos, the church’s pastor, two anonymous donors have since come forth to offer $1 million apiece to fund a new, 30,000-square-foot sanctuary on the corner of St. Andrews Road and St. Nicholas Court.
“This, for us, was a Christmas present,” said Father Alex. “Many people in the community are handicapped and aging.”
Many such members of the church cannot currently take advantage of fellowship programs because they would need to navigate treacherous flights of stairs in the current sanctuary, which will be kept and used as a community center as part of the new plan.
In 2002, an anonymous donor pledged $1 million toward what was then expected to be a $5 million construction project, but since that time the project has been stalled due to lawsuits from neighbors and the lengthy process of completing an Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
Several neighbors had filed three lawsuits against Southampton Town and Suffolk County over their approvals of the project. The case against the Southampton Town Planning Board was dismissed, but lawsuits against the Zoning Board of Appeals and County Department of Health Services were pending as of 2007. The neighbors’ attorney, Joseph Prokop, could not be reached for comment, but the church’s building committee chairman, Paul Maus, said Tuesday that he believes they are still pending.
Many of the neighbors’ complaints revolved around their assertion that the church was planning to build a catering hall at the site, which Father Alex said was an entirely false notion. The neighbors had also raised issues about the popularity of the annual Greek Festival held on the church’s grounds, though Town Planner Claire Vail said that any code enforcement issues that might arise from the festival, such as parking complaints, are outside of the jurisdiction of the Planning Board and would need to be addressed by the Town Board.
The church has also provided more on-site parking in an attempt to reduce the number of cars parked on neighboring streets.
“Our neighbors who sued us or didn’t sue us are always welcome to come in and celebrate with us,” said Father Alex on Monday. “I think it wasted a great deal more time than necessary. I think the town did everything possible to make sure we abided by the law. I didn’t want any shortcuts. If they want to spend money like that, they should give it to the poor rather than wasting money on lawsuits that are frivolous. That kind of stuff bothers me, when they call it a catering hall. It’s disrespectful of religious traditions.”
The church agreed, as a condition of its Planning Board approval, to not rent out classroom space to a private school and to not use the community center as a catering hall.
Father Alex said that the church is designed to look like a Byzantine sanctuary that could easily have been built in the 1500s.
“It will probably be one of the most beautiful religious structures in the Hamptons,” he said. “It will be a historical kind of structure, with beauty and grace to it. The way we’ve done it, the outside of the church will work very well with the topography of the Hamptons. It was the people that really worked hard for it.”
Though the Planning Board gave the project a conditional approval on December 18, Father Alex said that architects, lead by the church’s building committee and Mr. Maus, are still incorporating a few of the board’s final suggestions into the design.
“Those things take time. It was four years ago when we first submitted it. It’s going to cost us another $150,000,” he said. “A good thing is a lot of people are lining up to donate money.”
Hearing for Bull’s Head Inn
The Planning Board has also been reviewing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed renovation to the historic Bulls Head Inn at the corner of the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and Montauk Highway.
Former Phillip Morris CEO Bill Campbell, whose company Miaco, LLC owns the property, plans to renovate the historic building as a 22-bedroom hotel and restaurant, with a wellness center on the grounds.
On December 18, the Planning Board discussed whether to deem the DEIS complete. The board stalled over the decision due to the very brief description of the historical significance of the building in the document.
Central to the debate was the question of whether to include the historical comments in the DEIS, which would require waiting until January to deem the document complete, or simply incorporating them into a Final Environmental Impact Statement. Since the FEIS will not be completed until after a public hearing, the majority of the board believed it was better to include the historical issues in the draft, since much of the public’s concern regarding the renovation will likely revolve around the historic significance of the building.
“We are obviously going to comply with the requirements,” Mr. Campbell told the board. “I certainly have nothing to hide.”
Mr. Campbell said, however, that he was disappointed that he had not heard the feedback from the Planning Board sooner, since the board has had a copy of the draft document since August.
He agreed to provide the information in early January in anticipation of a public hearing on February 12.
New Polo Farm
Representatives of LaBrava Farms, LLC, pitched a plan to raise polo ponies on an 33-acre agricultural reserve in Water Mill at a work session on the morning of December 18.
Daniel Calhoun, the chairman of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, is a principal in the project, and he said that he plans to train ponies on a private polo field on the property, which is on the west side of Deerfield Road.
Mr. Calhoun said that he plans to regrade the soil on the poorly drained piece of property by removing topsoil from under proposed barns on the land, giving the property an even elevation in areas where water often stands after heavy rains.
Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said that he was concerned that the covenants placed on the agricultural reserve state that the land’s “natural contours should remain undisturbed.”
“You can’t farm raw land,” countered Mr. Calhoun’s attorney, Bill Maloney. “These fields had historically been used for row crops. We’re preparing the land consistent with our purpose. At the end of the project the soils would be improved.”
Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro said that she was concerned that neighbors of the property might object to active use on an agricultural reserve that had historically been used for row crops. She also said that she was concerned that the prime soils on the property would not be used for crops if a horse farm was built.
Mr. Finnerty also advised caution. “The subdivision [that created the agricultural easement] was very contentious. This board was sued,” he said.
The board has not yet received a formal application for the project.