Community Split Over Potential Closing Of Neptune Beach Club

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For Hampton Bays native Erika Dubowski, the days of basking in the summer sun and enjoying scenic ocean views while sipping an alcoholic beverage to the tune of house music in her favorite hometown beach club might be over.

The 24-year-old is one of many young people upset over the idea of Southampton Town potentially purchasing the Neptune Beach Club, the oceanfront club that has been a major weekend social destination for some for decades, and a major nuisance to others—including the Southampton Town Police Department. The current club opened in 1989, though a beach club has operated at the site since the 1960s.

“I would definitely say I’m disappointed, and a majority of the people who would go there that are my age would feel the same way,” said Ms. Dubowski, who would visit the club a couple of times a month during the summer.

The town was approached by the owner of the club, listed on town records as Neptune Beach Club Inc., last month and recently signed a contract to purchase the 2.8-acre property for $3.2 million, using proceeds from the municipality’s Community Preservation Fund, according to Mary Wilson, the fund’s manager.

The Town Board opened a public hearing on the matter earlier this month. Board members are expected to close the hearing in November, at which time they can pass a resolution to allow Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst to authorize the purchase, Ms. Wilson said.

Opinions are mixed about the town’s potential purchase of the land. The beach club, which goes by the name The Drift Inn at night, has been notorious for drug- and alcohol-related activities and arrests, and police cars can often be observed near the business during the summer. But, at the same time, it attracts visitors from throughout Long Island and beyond.

Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said the beach club’s closing would be a good thing as far he’s concerned, as it would allow him to dedicate resources more evenly throughout the town on weekends during the summer months. “If I don’t have to have as much staffing there, I can have it elsewhere in the town,” he said.

Nicole Fischette, a Southampton Village resident and mother, said she doesn’t frequent the area often, but from what she’s seen and heard, the area of Dune Road does get “a little out of control” between Memorial Day and Labor Day. She added that she would like to see the town use the space for something more family friendly.

“I’m definitely not into the whole fist-pumping and drinking during the daytime thing,” Ms. Fischette said. “An event hall or something like that would be nice.”

East Quogue resident Linda Mathues, who lives across Shinnecock Bay from the club, said she could often hear the music off in the distance at night, which she said was sometimes pleasant. Though she had not visited the beach club herself, explaining that the she would have been inclined to do so if she were younger, Ms. Mathues said its closure would leave some locals with one less spot to frequent during the summer.

Still, she said she would be happy if the town buys the oceanfront property.

“It’s a great idea, I hope they turn it into a nice waterfront restaurant,” Ms. Mathues said. “It’s great that [the town] has that preservation fund to do that.”

Town Supervisor Throne-Holst said the town already has been contacted by parties hoping to use the space for a high-end hospitality business or even a restaurant, but added that the town wants to discuss the matter publicly and weigh all options, which still includes the total preservation of the land. She added that if a business is brought onto the property, it would likely be done through a lend-lease agreement with the town.

There was, however, one option that Ms. Throne-Holst said has already been taken completely off the table.

“The Town Board is 100-percent committed to ensuring that the Neptune’s site will never relive its days as a nightclub,” she wrote in an email.

Ms. Wilson explained that one of the restrictions of the CPF is that any property purchased through it must be used for a public good, a requirement that could be met by a restaurant or a public beach, among other options.

Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi noted that the town also has the option of carving out the section of the property with the building housing Neptune and buying that lot using money from the town’s general fund instead of the CPF. That course, if pursued, would enable the town to work around the restrictions of the CPF, if need be.

Hampton Bays resident James Maguire said the town could always use more parking for its public beaches, but he questioned whether this was the best use of both the CPF and the Neptune property in particular. “The money could probably be better spent elsewhere,” he said.

Kelly Crowley, a 27-year-old Hampton Bays resident, wrote in an email that she thinks the town is making a mistake by closing down a successful hamlet business that brings in tourist dollars during the summer. Ms. Crowley said Neptune’s location is more ideal than other local bars, such as the Boardy Barn on Montauk Highway and The Beach Bar on Foster Avenue, which she said are in residential areas and more densely populated than Dune Road.

“The more they push the bars and clubs out, the more they push away tourists and visitors [from] other towns, and less people come to vacation in our hometown and spend money, which ultimately benefits the town as a whole,” she wrote. “There are lots of places on the water that will gladly welcome these people who want to spend their money vacationing in their town.”

In 2012, the Neptune Beach Club paid a little less than $64,000 in taxes to the town, almost $49,000 of which went to the Hampton Bays School District. Even if the town reimbursed the school district the full amount through a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, the school district still stands to lose about $10,000 if taxed at the 2012 rate, according to officials in the town tax assessor’s office. Jennifer Garvey, Ms. Throne-Holst’s deputy chief of staff, said the property would automatically go on the list of properties qualifying for a PILOT, though that does not guarantee anything other than consideration.

Hampton Bays Schools Business Administrator Larry Luce said the loss of revenue from Neptune Beach Club, if it is taken off the tax rolls, would have to be made up by other hamlet taxpayers.

“From a purely financial standpoint, yeah, Neptune’s not paying as much in taxes anymore is a disadvantage to all the rest of us,” Mr. Luce said. “But you have to weigh that with the other issues that come with Neptune’s—whether it be noise or traffic or whatever it is that people take issue with.”

Hampton Bays resident Kim Steers said she’s not quite sure what to make of Neptune closing. She said the beach club does not bother her, though she also would not mind if another business replaced it. The bottom line, Ms. Steers noted, is that whatever opens in its place should benefit the community.

“The stars are aligning in a way for this town and it’s either going to be a great positive or a great negative,” she said, pointing to the recent closure of Tide Runners restaurant and the eminent closing of the 1 North Steakhouse to make way for a new residential development along the Shinnecock Canal. “I’m just not sure which one it’s going to be yet.”

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