East Hampton Planning Board Sued Over Bowling Alley Approval

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In the wake of a lawsuit filed by neighbors this month, the owner of East Hampton Indoor Tennis, Scott Rubenstein, defended his proposal for a new bowling alley, miniature golf course and sports bar/restaurant as a reasonably limited expansion of his property’s facilities, considering the number of offerings he’s removing from the property at the same time.

Mr. Rubenstein, in conversations this week, said that the proposal, while a major reworking of the property, amounts to a net expansion of the facilities by only 6,300 square feet—which is less than the 25-percent of the existing total that would have triggered a new special permit review. And despite the big, new allowable capacity of the 10-lane bowling alley and sports bar, the removal of other sports fields and a voluntary new limit on attendees of the summer tennis camp, the changes in the property’s septic flows should not be of major concern, the owner argued.

The plans call for the elimination of two tennis courts, four basketball courts, a volleyball court, baseball diamond and several small sheds, Mr. Rubenstein said, to be replaced by the new bowling lanes and miniature golf and the sports bar and restaurant’s 180-plus seats.

“We’re removing one set of recreation and replacing it with another, and we’re permitted for 290 campers and we’ve agreed to limit it to 90,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “We feel very strongly that we took a good hard look at what impacts would be on the roadways and made our plans the size it should be to address that so there wouldn’t be a problem. We think the town did also.”

The lawsuit accuses the Planning Board of effectively rubber-stamping the application without conducting the sort of critical analysis of the Daniels Hole Road proposal’s impact on septic flows and traffic that their position requires.

“The Planning Board was basically asleep at the wheel on this project,” attorney Jeffrey Bragman, who represents the homeowners, said last week. “This is a Daniels Hole Disney Land.”

The attorney said the expansion, especially the addition of a nearly 200-seat sports bar, should have required a new special permit for the property, which operates in a residential district by virtue of a special overlay district for major recreational facilities. Mr. Bragman also said that the size of the sports bar, with about 90 seats both inside and outside, as well as other stools and lounge areas around pool tables and a bocce court, cannot be considered an accessory use to the bowling alley, like the small bar at the former bowling alley in East Hampton Village was. He said it should have triggered a much more substantial review by the Planning Board under state guidelines.

“That will be one of the three or four biggest restaurants in East Hampton Town,” Mr. Bragman said. “Who gets a 200-seat restaurant [without environmental review]. That’s how they did planning in the 1980s. This is a very large application because of that restaurant and bar. There is no way it should have been green-lighted through the process.”

Mr. Bragman said he suspects that the property’s sparsely populated surroundings were the reason the Planning Board breezed through the review, because no neighbors appeared to raise concerns about the project at any of the handful of public discussions. He acknowledged that he was only brought in to examine the application late in the six-month review by the Planning Board.

The homeowners named as plaintiffs in the suit are Joanna Grossman, Marie Zerilli, Barry Raebeck, Stephen Bernstein and Dominique Weiss.

Planning Board Chairman Reed Jones said last week that he could not comment on the suit.

The Planning Board held a public hearing and at least four other public discussions of the application last winter, at which there were no public objections raised to the proposal.

The board did not require a traffic study for the project, despite a recommendation to do so from the Suffolk County Planning Commission, instead relying on estimated traffic flows from town Planning Department staff. Board members noted the lightly-traveled nature of Daniels Hole Road and surmised that additional cars would cause few new issues.

The county commission suggested the board do an analysis of South Breeze Drive, a cut through between Daniels Hole and Route 114 that would likely be the route residents of Northwest Woods and Springs would use to get to and from the property. The board voted unanimously to ignore the county recommendation.

Mr. Rubenstein said that the property has four potential routes of ingress and egress: the South Breeze Drive cut-through, north on Daniels Hole to Route 114, south to Route 27 or an eastbound jog on Industrial Road to Route 27, and should not result in a large number of cars taking any one route.

“Of course there’s going to more cars, of course there’s going to be some more traffic—if there isn’t, we’re in trouble,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “But we’ve always conducted ourselves with concern about our neighbors. Nothing we have done has caused anyone any problems.”

Mr. Bragman also pointed to a paucity of data regarding the septic flow impact of the project. Engineers representing Mr. Rubenstein pointed to the property’s existing sanitary systems as being “over engineered” for the number of official potential users of the facility in relation to the size of the property, as determined by Suffolk County Department of Health guidelines. Planning Board member Kathleen Cunningham had asked Mr. Rubenstein to consider upgrading the property’s septics to a system that would remove nitrogen, but did not raise any objection when the application was not amended, and ultimately voted in favor of it. Water quality advocate Kevin McAllister also noted to board members, after the public comment on the project had been closed, that large facilities like even the existing tennis club would soon be required to have much more robust septics.

Mr. Rubenstein said this week that the plans show an excess of allowable septic “flow” under Suffolk County guidelines according to the size of the property and the number of daily users and that he had met with the county twice while designing the new use and pared it back to meet their recommendations.

He pointed to the seasonality of much of the property’s uses, both existing and planned, like the outdoor tennis courts, the tennis camp and the miniature golf course. Even the restaurant and bar, which has about half of its total seating outdoors, would be reduced in size for most of the year, while the county Department of Health counts flow rates as though the entire property were occupied every day year-round, he said.

The reduction in the number of daily campers, and the cuts in staffing that will allow, should make up for some of the increases in practical use of the property from the restaurant, Mr. Rubenstein argued.

The increase in the overall flow the facility will now generate should have, at least, spurred the Planning Board to ask for more specifics about the current flows and the existing system, Mr. Bragman said.

“When you are on a planning board, your job isn’t to just listen to the applicant and nod your head yes,” he said. “They’re supposed to take a hard look. To quote another attorney friend of mine: This is the softest hard look anyone has ever taken.”

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