The Southampton Racquet Club and Camp, which sits on a 17.4-acre parcel on Little Fresh Pond in North Sea, will open again this summer—and members of the Little Fresh Pond Association are not so happy about it.
They say camp owner Jay Jacobs does not have approval to run the camp as he is advertising it, with swimming, basketball, ceramics and other electives, and town officials won’t do anything about it.
Mr. Jacobs said he is well within his right to offer more than tennis at his camp.
“We are going to have all the same types of activities that every other tennis day camp does on the entire East End,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re operating under the existing certificate of occupancy for a tennis club and camp, exactly how it has been done for years.”
For the past two years, the group has been battling it out with Mr. Jacobs, who bought the property in 2010, while he has tried to change the camp into a children’s day camp with no specific focus on tennis. They say the traffic, pollution and noise it would bring would have a negative effect on their neighborhood and the pond.
In 2012, the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that Mr. Jacobs would need a change of use variance—from one preexisting, nonconforming use to another—to convert his camp into a children’s day camp. A decision is expected after a lengthy environmental impact study is completed later this year. Mr. Jacobs must also prove that the change in use would be beneficial to the general neighborhood.
More recently, the ZBA ruled that Mr. Jacobs would not need a variance to add a swimming pool, playground and sports court for kids, which were deemed as “acceptable customary accessory structures” to the camp’s tennis courts and would not constitute a change of use. In response, members of the LFPA filed an appeal in January, which is currently before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Pastoressa.
In April, the group sought both a stop work order from Southampton Town officials and an injunction from State Supreme Court staying construction, but both were denied.
Since he has faced much difficulty in getting the camp switched over to a full children’s day camp, Mr. Jacobs decided to keep tennis as the focus of his camp, but to offer other activities as well. He said that other activities have always been a part of the tennis club and camp, pointing to listings and advertisements from 2006 and 2009 that showing water activities, painting, pottery, gardening, dance and drama as offerings at the camp.
“They are stating that we are a tennis day camp and we [can] only do tennis,” he said. “If that were true, why am I holding a CO for a tennis club and camp that includes a whole assortment of facilities, including a basketball court? What does basketball have to do with tennis?”
He said the trouble comes for members of the LFPA because there is a subtle difference between a tennis camp and a day camp. He said if he ever gets the variance from the ZBA to change it into a full children’s day camp, tennis would no longer be the focus.
This year, everyone who signs up has to pay a tennis club membership fee, and he’s brought in tennis professional Cliff Drysdale for tennis clinics. In addition, Mr. Jacobs said there won’t be swimming or kayaking in Little Fresh Pond.
LFPA Vice President Foster Maer said this week that Mr. Jacobs is trying to change accessory uses—namely, swimming, other sports activities and the arts—to the main use of the property, which would require a variance.
“The facilities and activities—only two or three of them have anything to do with tennis,” he said. “Here we are, three months later, and it’s moving ahead and the town is not doing anything to stop it.”
Mr. Maer said that for months the LFPA has also been trying to alert town officials about Mr. Jacobs’s plans and construction going on at the site that the group believes to be illegal, including what they said is a conversion of a cottage into a bathhouse and the opening of a dining hall on the premises, which they said would need further variances. Despite their letters, Mr. Maer said they have been met with a “wall of silence” from town officials.
“It’s as if the sheriff of a town tells its residents that he has decided to stop enforcing the law, as if the town has given a free pass to the owner to do whatever he wants because the town is not going to enforce the law against him,” he said.
On May 16, Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray wrote a letter to LFPA’s attorney, Matthew Livits, saying there is no “wall of silence” and that the town is unable to address the LFPA’s issues with the camp because they await determination from the court.
“Knowing this, it seems patently unfair to continue to allow your clients to charge that the town has put up a ‘wall of silence,’” she wrote.
Additionally, she said that any issues they have need to be addressed to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services because it is the entity that governs sanitary requirements. The Department of Heath approved the site plans concerning the pool and the “bathhouse,” which Mr. Jacobs and his attorney, Wayne Bruyn of O’Shea, Marcincuk and Bruyn LLP, said was just an addition of toilet facilities to a cottage near the pool.
Mr. Maer said he is flummoxed that the town can’t do anything to address LFPA’s issues with the camp. “The town is completely dodging this responsibility,” he said. “It is unbelievable that their hands are completely tied.”
Mr. Jacobs said he feels comfortable that he and his company, Southampton Day Camp Realty, are doing it the right way, but that the LFPA is a very determined group.
“They don’t want us to open, they don’t want us to survive, and they don’t want us to be able to use our property,” he said. “We’re anticipating a bumpy time, but my sense is that once we get through the summer, everybody will see that it will be a minimal impact, and they won’t be able to swear we were ever there.”
The LFPA has threatened legal action against the town if it doesn’t stop the Southampton Racquet Club from opening.